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FDAC parent mentors – a unique approach to supporting parents

Date:21 AUG 2017
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Jo Maycock, Development Co-ordinator FDAC National  Unit, Diane Green, Parent Mentor Co-ordinator FDAC Team and an anonymous FDAC Parent Mentor. 

This eighth blog from the FDAC National Unit is about the distinctive role of FDAC parent mentors. We explain the parent mentoring service and reflect on the importance of growing this initiative across all FDAC sites.

What is an FDAC parent mentor? 

FDAC parent mentors provide a volunteer befriending service to parents throughout their involvement with the court. Care proceedings are a challenging and traumatic time; the additional help of a parent mentor can often support parents to address the issues they face.

The parent mentor programme is the only component of the FDAC model where support to parents is provided by non-professionals. Having experienced similar challenges in their lives, parent mentors act as positive role models for FDAC parents. They represent resilience, possibility and hope. Their understanding of the impact of drugs and alcohol on children and families, and their lived experience of child protection and/or family court proceedings, is a powerful addition, alongside the work of the FDAC specialist team, helping parents to recognise and overcome their own struggles.

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FDAC parents are very positive about the help received from parent mentors:

'What’s good about it  is hearing someone else’s experience and how they came through it. FDAC are all professionals but the mentor is just like me. It helped a lot.' FDAC Parent 2015

'It’s a relief to see her because she’s not a professional, so you feel more comfortable.' FDAC Parent 2016

Parents describe the FDAC approach as 'tough but fair'. No two parents have the same journey in FDAC, but all of them are anxious about losing their children and failing in other ways. This is why the success of parent mentors in having overcome similar life experiences is so helpful.

Who can be an FDAC parent mentor?

Having developed the parent mentoring scheme over nine years, FDAC is confident about the criteria we use when recruiting parent mentors:

  • A mentor will have experience of substance misuse, either personal experience or that of a close family member or friend.
  • A mentor will have an understanding of working with a local authority concerning child protection, ie during child protection processes, pre-proceedings work or in proceedings.
  • A mentor will no longer be involved with a local authority themselves and there must be 3 months since involvement (eg since end of Supervision Order), although mentor training can start before then.
  • A mentor candidate will be at least 12 months abstinent from substance misuse.

An FDAC service aims to recruit a good balance of volunteers, with a combination of parents who have been through the FDAC process (and either reunified with their children or not) and parents who have overcome their difficulties through other treatment services. The range of relevant experiences they bring helps parents realise the value of engaging in the FDAC process and demonstrates the different positive outcomes parents can achieve, such as; safe parenting of children at home, improved family relationships and use of support networks, improved contact arrangements, achieving abstinence and a healthy lifestyle, progress in taking up education and/or employment opportunities, and making a successful recovery from trauma and adversity.

The role of an FDAC parent mentor 

Brunel University’s independent research study of FDAC, published in 2014, describes the role of parent mentors and the ideal arrangement for supporting their work. The study has helped shape the role of mentoring as part of FDAC’s 'trial for change'.

The parent mentor role is twofold:

  • General mentoring support:  mentors offer informal support to several parents, at their first court hearing and then during their assessment and planning work with the FDAC specialist team, and
  • Matched mentoring support: mentors are linked (or matched) to a particular parent and spend time helping them work towards some of the specific goals they have agreed with FDAC

Reflections from a parent mentor

We asked a London parent mentor to write about their experience and this is what they said (in August 2017):

'It is fulfilling, rewarding and cathartic to use my own experience to help others. During my own recovery journey I learnt valuable pieces of information and mantras; I like to call these "golden nuggets". My own mantra to answer the addicts’ reasoning of "It is only once"  is "there is no just once!" I learnt to shut down and not engage with my inner addict’s voice by using this mantra. This, alongside understanding thought  patterns of negative thinking and realising the consequences, has kept me safe. I enjoy sharing what I have learned with other parents in the hope of planting  a seed for change. I encourage them to embrace the help being offered during  the FDAC process and to find their own "golden nuggets".

The first hearing in FDAC is overwhelming and  terrifying, and the chance to meet a parent mentor at this time allows parents to safely talk about the difficult emotions they have. It can also help them  realise that it is possible to achieve what is seemingly impossible. That by  embracing the unique support offered by FDAC lasting changes can be made. In my case I was overwhelmed with the power the local authority had over my future with my child. I realised that by making the right choices and engaging with FDAC and treatment I was able to slowly take the power back. There are many hoops to jump through for a parent in court proceedings, and the way I approached this was to ask myself "How high?" I always encourage parents to get in touch with their inner fight, look at the situation as taking the power back. The power is in their hands through engaging and making right decisions. 

A mentor is not a match with everybody, but mentors can support all parents by listening, answering questions, showing that change is possible and sharing the "golden nuggets" they learnt along their way. 

I feel I can be most effective as a mentor when a match happens. Conversations are had on a deeper level and this can be emotionally powerful for both the parent and me. 

There are times when a parent mentor may not be appropriate, for example if parents are too overwhelmed with all the different professionals and individuals involved. A parent may not always be receptive to  talking with me, or listening to what I have to say. However, I view my role as  planting a seed. At the time the parent may not understand my message but they now have that knowledge. Hopefully in time it can blossom and grow as they continue their journey of recovery.

I have found the most effective way of helping parents is to listen, to share the knowledge that has helped me and to encourage them to be straight talking and to find a core belief (or mantra) that will help them keep clean. I urge them to engage with all and every support service  offered. In this age of austerity people with long-term addiction are unlikely to be granted any repeat funding for rehab. Being in the FDAC process can help parents access services they may no longer be able to get otherwise. I urge parents to realise this and to view FDAC as an opportunity, even divine intervention, if appropriate.  

On my own journey of recovery I used mindfulness techniques such as mediation, calming music, and positive visualisations. My most interesting parent mentoring experiences have been in combination with parents attending the FDAC anxiety group that I co-facilitated. The group specifically uses mindfulness techniques to help the parent through the process, and in life beyond FDAC. The ability to combine these techniques with being able to mentor was an enriching experience because I was able to positively mentor parents during and after their work with the group. 

The best feedback I have had as a parent mentor was having a thank you from a parent six months later. She asked to thank me through her key worker. She said that although she didn't get what I was saying  at the time, she does get it now, and it makes sense. For me this was a rewarding moment, to know the seed I planted was nourished over time and grew.

I believe it is a testament to the FDAC process that any parent post proceedings is able to walk through FDAC’s door again and feel comfortable to help others currently experiencing the process. For me, by becoming a parent mentor I was able to confront my past and reach a full circle of completion. For others, I hope to be an inspiration that change is possible and an ear of understanding and compassion through a traumatic time. I aim to offer empathy and insight surrounding their circumstances and be able to advise from experience. I think a mentor’s unique independent view is an asset to the families and the FDAC team.'

Why  FDAC values parent mentors

The FDAC team values the parent mentors’ life experiences and the contribution they can make to the FDAC process. The team has observed the different relationship between parents and parent mentors: a relationship of mutual support that enables a less guarded and open interaction. This sometimes results in parent mentors being the bridge that mends the gaps and supports parents in the face of difficulties or sensitivities surrounding professional relationships.

'Mentors are good for parents who don’t really trust the team. A good relationship with a mentor can make all the difference to a case ... their non-professional perspective is important and their insights can be so useful.' FDAC London team

'Mentors can speak to parents at their level  quickly whereas professionals can be too wordy and too directing. It works the  other way too. We can explain to professionals the words, the street language, the mannerisms.' FDAC parent mentor

'She [the mentor] was brilliant. Please keep trying to get this part of the service in place.' Family Lawyer 2014

The FDAC National Unit’s conviction about the value of parent mentoring has led to the scheme being included as one of the 10 Service Standards that local FDAC sites aspire to develop as part of their work towards embedding the key elements of fidelity to the evaluated FDAC model.

Adequate resources for recruitment, continuing training and supervision need to be available if mentoring is to have the best chance of running effectively, and the challenge of start-up or continuation funding is something that all local sites continue to face.

The work of the National Unit and news from the FDAC sites is available at www.fdac.org.

You can follow theFDAC National Unit on Twitter @FDAC_NU