Early reflections on the MAP workshop feedback

The training workshop for professionals: ‘Improving Responses to Mothers Separated from their Children – or at Risk of Becoming Separated’, took place this week on 17th June at Coventry University. It was very well attended by practitioners who came locally, from the surrounding counties and London and as far as from West Yorkshire. There was a diverse mix of professionals who included:

Clinical Supervisor
Social Worker (and trainee counsellor on placement)
Education, Training and Employment Advisor
Independent Domestic Violence Advisor
Counsellor/Senior Caseworker
Managing Director
Social Work Student
Family Intervention Practitioner
Service Co-ordinator
Befriending Support Worker
Social Worker
Domestic Violence Co-ordinator, Programmes Co-ordinator/Facilitator
Domestic Violence Support Worker
Senior Practitioner
Social Worker
Family Practitioner
Therapist/Practitioner
Social Worker
Domestic Abuse Practitioner
Birth Relative Support Worker
Team Manager Early Intervention Service
Early Intervention Worker

22 women in all – and yes, all women. No men attended the workshop and this was commented upon by one participant who noted that there are many male practitioners in this field – so why none at the workshop?  Men were certainly not excluded from the workshop and the possibility of male attendees was discussed in the monthly planning groups. As Project Lead, this was something I needed to check out with the volunteers as they were going to be telling their stories in front of people who they had never met before. Their accounts of how they became separated from their children involved male violence towards women and children and it was a concern of mine that they felt the environment safe enough to do this. None of the mothers apart objected to male workshop participants and so the workshop was equally open to both sexes.

The workshop was then advertised through Coventry University Psychology Department newsletter, VIA (Violence and Interpersonal Aggression) (specialist group run by my PhD supervisor and Director of Studies, Professor Erica Bowen) newsletter, Warwickshire CAVA E-Grapevine ezine, Reducing the Risk of Domestic Abuse bulletin (Independent DV Advisory Service for Oxfordshire), and by email through the contacts/stakeholders that I have built up during the Mothers Apart Project.

Two men expressed interest in the Project from this range of promotion. I had 30 initial enquiries in all with 28 practitioners requesting a place on the workshop. The 2 men that reserved a space on the workshop did not then confirm their place once the process of registration took place but they did not give a reason for this – they just did not communicate beyond the initial correspondence. I reserved spaces for workshop participants as the enquiries came in. I needed a certain amount of attendees for the workshop to go ahead so I did not have the luxury of ensuring a diverse range of participants as possible to include men. I am sure that attendance by the 2 male practitioners would have contributed to the collaborative approach that we took in the workshop through networking and sharing perspectives. However, the workshop did not attract men for whatever reason and we had an all-female cohort. We certainly had a diverse range of professional roles though and this was a strength of the workshop.

A brief study of the feedback on the questionnaires suggested that the most popular elements of the workshop were; talking to mothers apart, networking and reflective writing. Only one person mentioned the lack of men on the workshop but there were some comments made about the absence of discussion about fathers and male victims of domestic violence. My research specifically focusses on male violence towards women who are mothers but I will certainly reflect on these comments over the coming weeks and think about the relevance and importance of these areas to my research.

Of all the comments, I was disappointed to see that some workshop participants thought that I had a negative attitude towards social care workers and services. This was bad news as I am aiming to develop multi-agency training.  This is a shame and was absolutely not my intention and not the message that I wanted to convey. I can see how this might have happened though and it is worth briefly analysing this although I will return to it in the coming months. I see that in order to educate about how to improve responses it was first necessary to highlight the unhelpful practice before explaining what is more helpful. My information about what is unhelpful came largely through my research – that is the needs assessments and interviews with professionals that I conducted, and the literature that I have reviewed. I reported on a variety of unhelpful practice and judgmental, critical, unempathic professional attitudes and responses to mothers apart. What I clearly failed to communicate though was that the helpful responses that I was reporting on also came through my research – through the same assessments, planning group activities and interviews with professionals. I spoke to several brilliant social workers who are doing the most amazing jobs with mothers apart and want to support mothers and children to stay together wherever possible. I know that social workers have an incredibly difficult and challenging job to do and I certainly acknowledged that. Somehow I did not manage to communicate my positive attitude to social workers though and this was my error. Although I know that there is some bad practice in social care I don’t know that this is worse than in any other profession and I know many more excellent social workers and have friends who are social workers. I also know that many social worker want to do more for mothers apart than the system allows them to.

This feedback is incredibly useful for me though because I can see now that the workshop would have been much improved by highlighting the positives as well as the negatives across interventions and organisations. I think I could have framed these positives as: this is what professionals/organisations are doing well. I have got loads of data on this as it was one of my interview questions. As I have said, it is one source of my information about how to improve responses to mothers apart. I will reflect further on the comments made by workshop participants over the coming months and think about how the workshop could have been improved. I am greatly looking forward to receiving written reflections on the workshop and these comprise the last piece of data to be collected in this study.

About Dr Laura Monk

I am a researcher and counselling tutor based at University of Nottingham. My doctoral research investigated how to improve professionals' responses to mothers who become separated from their children. I developed a training workshop for the professionals who mothers come into contact with - largely at the intersection of health and social care, the family courts and domestic abuse services. I am also a counsellor and psychotherapist and offer feminist therapy for survivors of domestic abuse - especially coercive control. I am a Women's Aid domestic violence prevention advocate.
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