Wendy, Family Support Assistant

An interview with Wendy, a Family Support Assistant in Crawley.

Tell us a bit about yourself...

My name is Wendy and I work as a family support assistant in the Crawley Hub. I've been working for West Sussex since 2017. I've completed various other roles as well during that time. I have a background in early years and childcare, so to work with families was just a natural progression.

What inspired you to become a family support assistant?

I was working as a hub support assistant which was a year’s contract. I think I did three months within the actual hub, before we went into COVID-19. It just was a sort of natural progression really from there.

I wanted to stay with West Sussex and it was an ideal opportunity to move up, but stay within the sort of team I've really enjoyed working with, the Early Help team. I didn't want to leave them.

Why did you choose to work for West Sussex County Council?

I was working in a pre-school setting and whenever I had to speak to the Family Information Service, I always remember putting the phone down, saying to myself...

"...they are all lovely. They must all go on the same course about how to be lovely and supportive.”

One day we had a newsletter come round and there were some part time vacancies for contact supervisors. I thought, "I can give up a Saturday to help some families," so I applied.

It was the first interview I've had after 21 years, which was absolutely terrifying. I had never been so scared in my life, but they just made me feel so comfortable and welcome and I got the position. So, I did that part time and then they offered a contract, and I thought I'd do it as I was looking for a new challenge.

I did half and half then joined West Sussex full time. I Immediately felt so supported and that's continued with all three roles that I've had within West Sussex. If I have a problem, someone would be there for me and I think that's so important in a workplace. The team are just fantastic. The Early Help team were amazing and that’s how I have ended up as a family support assistant at West Sussex.

What's the best thing about being at West Sussex in your current role?

Helping parents. We work directly with parents, enabling families. When they come for help, they're at breaking point, they just don't know where to turn. To be able to help is amazing and when we can't always help, we will be honest, I don't have a magic wand.

A lot of this role is about actually enabling families to help themselves, so I draw on my experience and knowledge. I just feel it is really rewarding to be able to say, "look, try this, try that," but realising we can't always help everybody.

How does West Sussex support you to develop and progress in your role?

West Sussex give you loads of opportunities. Through the Learning Gateway, we can access training. Personally, I like doing lots of research. I try and keep up to date on new legislation and I've recently done a course that was outside of the West Sussex Learning and Development about research in practice. Participants came from across the UK and could share good practice and suggestions.

Is there a particular case or something about your work that makes you feel proud?

Yes, I've just finished a case with a family and I remember the second session we had, it was just horrific. They weren't taking on board anything I said.

The problem was they’d had lots of professional interventions. They'd had conflicting interventions and I think they just didn't trust people. I asked myself, "Where do I go from here? How do I make this work? How do I even try to make this a positive experience for them and for me?" So, I had a chat with my team manager and he said, "OK, well, you've got to try and structure your next session."

When I went back to the family, I suggested they came up with three things that we can work on. Initially they didn't respond. I thought, "I’ve upset them, this isn't good". Then, the day before the session, they came back and gave me four topics. By the third session things were amazing. We had a structured conversation. They listened and I think they realised I was there to support them and to help them and their trust came back, that really was the turning point.

The case has been escalated now as the family needed more help than I could offer. But it is the fact that I fought for that and kept pushing to get them the help they needed. They just needed everybody in the same room, all talking about the same thing at the same time. I was just so pleased that it happened and that everybody can now work together because that's what was needed.

What would you say the challenges are for you in your role?

Parents who don't listen. You know you can only try to enable families, it is a role where you can only give advice. You can signpost and you can offer help, but if they're not prepared to take it, there's nothing you can do.

I would say 50 per cent of the referrals that come in are not from the parent. When they're directly from the parent, they want the help. When they're not, the parents can be very resistant. Again, you have to build that rapport. You have to build that trust again to start helping them.

What would you say to somebody who was considering joining us in West Sussex in the Early Help team?

I would say that you will be 100 per cent supported in the Early Help team across the board. No matter whether you talked to people in your own hub or you talked to people in a different hub, they're just so supportive, so helpful. Everyone, even on tough days, always brings something good.

Something noticeable is if you’re having a tough day and you just put that phone down and get up from your desk because you just have to walk away, you know that someone will come after you. Or when you come back, a cup of tea will be sitting on your desk. That’s it, I just love that.

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