what ways of being deliver impactful partnership?
Working in partnership places demands on families and those helping them. The third aspect of the essence of partnership focuses on different ways of being that apply to parents and those supporting them. Our findings show that all involved have to navigate different ways of being, otherwise the partnership wouldn’t work. By ‘ways of being’ we mean positions that helpers and parents take in relation to each other. In full, it is ‘ways of being in an impactful partnership relationship’.
The ways of being may seem like they are in contradictory pairs: the key is to navigate each of them in a dynamic balance.
Being confident in what you know, and humble about what you don't know - applies to parents and helpers alike
Dynamic balance between standard and emergent practices
Being ready to follow parents, and to lead them when needed
Parents being ready to share difficulties without giving up
Being honest about needing help, without being disempowered
These ways of being fall into pairs. They seem at first to be contradictory, but we found that helpers and parents alike were shifting between them.
One way of being from each pair may be more appropriate at one moment or in relation to one issue being worked on, and others may apply at other times and in other contexts.
Impactful partnership does not mean splitting each pair equally 50/50. Instead, helpers need to be alert and reflective as to the dynamics of ways of being – how they may need to change over time – and to support parents in navigating these dynamics.
This is another way in which impactful partnership is an evolving art. So, we think of them as a series of pairs in a yin-yang relationship.
Ways of being in partnership are not fixed. The need to move between different ways of being is part of what makes partnership hard. But this movement is also what makes partnership work – it is an ingredient of success.
Some ways of being apply to parents and helpers alike, while others are mainly relevant to either parents or helpers.
Key concept: agency and being agentic
Agency relates to making things happen. Someone who is agentic can set a goal and take steps towards that goal. Being agentic does not mean being totally independent, and seeking help can be a crucial way of being agentic. Being a resourceful agent implies that, as well as seeking help, someone recognises their strengths and their capacity to make progress. See more below
Helpers and parents need to feel confident in their expertise, but also ready to explore what they don't know
This way of being applies to parents and helpers alike. Helpers have to feel confident in putting their expertise to work in order to bring about change. Section 3 – Pathways for Expertise provides more details on how this can be done.
“I asked Aria where Grace was up to in her day. It was quite comfortable for Aria to change Grace and prepare her for sleep with me there and the two of us wondering and listening. Grace went to sleep with hardly any little peep at all, I have to say.” (Helper)
Parents also have to feel that their knowledge and experience are respected and worthwhile. This can be tricky, because they may initially think that they don’t know much, or they see their experience as one of failure. When both parties are knowers and questioners, then their knowledge and curiosity can come into productive entanglement.
No-one has all the answers at the outset, so both parents and helpers have to be knowledge-seekers, asking questions. These questions can be about each other, about what is happening, and about the change process. This is why partnership has to be mind-expanding.
Helpers have to navigate a delicate and dynamic balance between being supportive and being challenging
Helpers have to manage a delicate balance between being supportive and being challenging. Knowing when, how, and how much to challenge, requires sensitive judgement.
If challenge comes too soon, parents may feel unready, unable to cope with what is being asked, or reluctant to try. If challenge comes too late, parents may start to question whether the partnership is going anywhere.
The project data showed that effective helpers attuned the timing and level of challenge, as well as the help they gave, to enable parents to face challenges more readily.
Helpers have to manage a delicate balance between being supportive and being challenging.
Being a supporter can involve naming strengths and affirming positive things about a family. It can mean being empathetic when parents describe difficult circumstances. In many services we found that professionals showed empathy by saying things like ‘I agree this is a really hard time for you.’
Being a challenger means tackling rather than avoiding difficult issues or questions. It also means recognising when something represents a challenge for parents – knowing when trying new things or even talking about certain things can require a lot of courage from those you are helping.
Helpers have to be ready to lead and talk, as well as to listen to parents and follow where they want to go
Change can’t happen if helpers refuse to take the lead from time to time. Doing so doesn’t undermine partnership – it helps to maintain purpose and focus. Being in the lead often means the helper is the one doing the talking, but we also found helpers leading the interaction by asking questions and explaining why those questions were important.
However, it wouldn’t be a partnership if the helper does all the leading and talking. So helpers also have to be followers while parents are the leader-talkers. We found helpers were followers by adjusting to parents’ pace, and sequencing work according to their priorities or capacities. Being an effective follower depends on being a good listener. Leading and following are both needed for partnership to be mind-expanding for all involved.
The four partnership activities involve both these ways of being.
Both helpers and parents have to show courage, doing difficult things, while also being vulnerable in front of the other
Parents seeking help have to shift between being vulnerable and being strong. Helpers also have to show courage in their work, and can be vulnerable when asking for honest feedback from parents or when dealing with upsetting situations.
Being vulnerable as a parent is needed because helpers have to understand the full picture around specific difficulties. Even the act of turning up or accepting support in your home can make people feel vulnerable.
Parents also need to be strong when working in partnership. It takes strength to trust others and open up about concerns and fears. It requires strength to take on challenges and persist with them.
Parents seeking help have to shift between being vulnerable and being strong. They will often need assistance with these ways of being.
Parents will often need assistance with both these ways of being. This is why the relational safe space of learning is so important. We can only expect people to be vulnerable with us if it is safe for them to be that way. We can only expect them to be strong and act courageously if there is a safety net in place. Because helpers also navigate both of these ways of being, they can model being both strong and vulnerable. This is part of how helpers are intimate outsiders in the lives of families.
help seeker~resourceful agent
Change results from acts of seeking help. Offered in the right way, help can empower parents and help them take control
Partnership is initiated by parents recognising the need for help. However positive change will remain out of reach if parents are trapped in a sense of complete dependence on others. See the key concept box which explains what we mean by ‘agency’. Being an effective help seeker is not just about asking others for support. It involves actively clarifying purpose, setting boundaries, and maintaining open communication about how things are going.
"I think Nesra is a really resilient young woman. She has the strength to get through." (Helper)
Being a resourceful agent in a partnership relationship means taking on some of the responsibility for change. Some parents show agency by trying out new strategies suggested by professionals. Others do so by experimenting and adapting things as they go along. Deciding not to do certain things because they don't feel right or conflict with values is also a way of being a resourceful agent.
“It’s been working for me because I’m not treating her the way my Mum treated me. There’s a huge difference. My Mum started to realise how to treat her when she sees how we treat her, how we talk to her, and she started to change a little bit as well.” (Parent)
Using the Ways of being to enhance your practice
The main worksheet (ready to print on A4 or A3 paper) is designed for practitioners to reflect on their practice. There is also a version that you may find helpful to use in your actual work with families - this contains the main figure and some key prompts.