Step Up Step Down is The Fostering Network’s programme to help prevent children who are on the periphery of the care system in Northern Ireland from being taken into care, and instead supporting them to stay within their own homes.
Recently, the Step Up Step Down programme officer, Jade, enthusiastically contacted the parents and carers on the scheme, inviting them to the very first Incredible Years parenting course.
The course is designed to provide parents and carers with the tools and strategies that they need for a more positive family life at home, and is supported by a strong evidence base (www.incredibleyears.com).
Jade was surprised when she heard the concerns being expressed by parents.
‘What if I choke up, or don’t understand the stuff they are teaching? What if everyone else is a better parent than me?’
‘I’m no good at socialising. The other parents aren’t going to like me. People won’t understand just how hard it is in my house. The kids are out of control. I’m scared of everyone finding out how much I’m failing.’
These are a fraction of the questions and fears our Step Up Step Down parents had prior to the Incredible Years training course. The Step Up Step Down team were keen to make the course as accessible as possible by removing any practical barriers that families might face, knowing that the emotional and social barriers would be d ifficult enough for many to overcome.
What it entailed
We arranged childcare and transport where they were needed, as these are two of the most frequent reasons for families not being able to attend events. Jade, the programme officer, and June, the training facilitator, visited families ahead of the course to explain specifically what it would be like, and to soothe some of the myths and fears they had.
It was amazing how such minor efforts had a significant impact, as we expected a group of about eight people, but 15 signed up and came along.
Nerves were high on the first day as most of the parents had never engaged in anything quite like this before. One Incredible Years strategy is about recognising behaviours you want to see more of with small, tangible rewards.
It is important to acknowledge these, even if they seem obvious or minor. For many of the parents, simply being in the training room meant they had to overcome a lot of their own obstacles and fears, and they deserved to be rewarded for being present.
What we did
Jade and June were handing out sweets and stickers with specific labelled praise from the very beginning.
‘Thank you so much for coming along, for being here on time and for being in your seat ready to start.’
The content of the course included play and special time, praise, social, emotional and persistence coaching, rules, responsibilities, reward systems, ignoring misbehaviour, time out and logical consequences.
The structure was to focus on one strategy each week, and the course was delivered in creative and varied ways, including verbal presentations, a lot of video clip examples, discussion groups, written worksheets and practice sessions.
The facilitators approached the group with the attitude that modelling was much more important than trying to simply deliver information, so they seized every opportunity they could to offer praise, rewards and one to one time with participants.
How it turned out
Great bonds were formed within the group, and participants actively took part, even with the bits they were initially afraid of, such as practices and role plays. It was fantastic to hear so many examples from parents about the positive impacts they had seen during the week, when they put the strategies they had been learning into practice with their own children.
One mother cried, stating that,
‘I can’t believe how much better it is with my son now. I was sceptical about this course at first if I’m honest, because I believed I had tried a lot of the strategies. I realised throughout the course that that I needed to learn more about using them properly. He is responding so well to the praise and rewards. I do not have to shout as much anymore and we can enjoy our relationship so much more because of that.’
What's next for Incredible Years
We will be running the Incredible Years course annually in order for as many families to benefit from it as possible, and are beginning the small group Dinosaur Incredible Years programme this year working specifically with small groups of the children on the scheme.
The evidence shows that the outcomes are even more effective when the parents and children are both engaging with Incredible Years, and we are excited about what the future holds with so many wonderful opportunities at our fingertips!