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December 21, 2012 by Susan Moore, Adviser

Advice is defined as an opinion which someone offers you about what you should do or how you should act in a particular situation (Cambridge University Press- Cambridge dictionaries online)

Our advice line receives an average of 700 calls per month. Some of these fit in to the definition of advice very well. A question is asked, information is provided, and the caller goes away with a clear sense of what they should do and the implications of this action.

However, people’s lives are rarely so straightforward. The majority of our callers come to us with a complex package of experiences, questions and needs and most calls could not be described as pure advice.

Providing a listening ear

Advisers have a wealth of knowledge and experience in order to offer callers clear and in depth information and advice about a range of legal and practice issues. In addition, however, it is vital that we have and use a range of counselling skills such as empathy, a non judgemental approach and active listening.

Callers come to us in a range of emotional states. Because of the nature of the advice we offer, many callers are deeply distressed, desperate, frustrated, and angry. Some calls can appear to be predominantly “counselling” calls.

A recent independent evaluation of our advice service, asked callers about their experiences of the advice line and what they had found most helpful. The evaluation report repeatedly highlights the value that callers place on this element of our service.

The truth is that much of the advice I and my colleagues give to parents is hard to hear. Often I advise parents to accept very difficult realities about their own situations, to understand concerns about them and their children and accept where changes might need to be made. I also, very frequently, advise people to co-operate with and engage in processes that feel desperately negative and unfair. Some of what I am advising a parent to do, for example, may have been said already by local authority social workers but they have been unable to hear or accept it. 

In order to give advice meaningfully, we must first truly listen to and understand our callers. Once they feel heard, callers are more able to hear, trust and act upon our advice. Of course it also helps that we’re independent of any decision about the child, which also assists in building callers’ trust. This is a real strength of our advice service.

Advocating for families

For some callers, advice is not enough. However well a caller feels heard, however accessible the information that is presented to them, however much they might understand and accept the advice being given, some callers simply do not have the capacity or resources to make full use of the advice without further support.

The advice we are providing to a grandmother caring for her 2 severely disabled grandchildren without appropriate support from the local authority may be the key to moving things forward and preventing the placement from breaking down. But if she is too exhausted and overwhelmed to act on the advice, however, this value is lost and we are just another service unable to make a difference to her difficulties.

We have been successful in securing funding from the Orp Foundation and the Rayne Foundation to provide a limited amount of self and indirect advocacy to callers to our advice line who require this service. In practice, these are not big pieces of work. But sending the above grandmother a template letter, which she can adapt and send to Children’s Services or making a telephone call to a social worker on her behalf may be enough to make the advice truly meaningful and move the situation forward. The value that this adds to the advice service is tremendous, and this too is noted in the evaluation.

People’s lives are complicated, complex and fluid. As a result, our advice line has to match this need and be responsive to the people who use our service. As noted evidence from the recent evaluation is overwhelmingly positive, which is reassuring and indicates, in the great majority of cases we are getting the balance right. As we move in to 2013, I look forward to continue learn, listen, advocate and, most importantly, help our service users by giving them the type of advice they need.

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Telephone Advice Line

If you are a parent, family member or friend of a child, in England or Wales, who has social workers involved in your child’s life, or if you need extra support from Children’s Services, and would like to speak to an adviser, please call our free and confidential helpline.

0808 801 0366 

(Monday to Friday 9.30am to 3pm)

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Discussion Boards

For advice from our advisers, or to get online support from other people in a similar position to you, visit the parents or family and friends carers forums.  To explore new research and to discuss ideas with practitioners and families, visit the FGC Network  or the Your Family, Your Voice Alliance Boards. If you are a domestic violence worker or social worker in London, visit our new research and practice  board.

 

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FAQs

We have answered the most commonly asked questions put to FRG advisers. Please follow the links to see a list of questions and answers, grouped together by subject.

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Advice Sheets

For more detailed information, please see our range of advice sheets on family support, child protection, looked after children, family and friends care, adoption or challenging decisions.

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Films

Family Rights Group has produced films for families to help ‘demystify’ the child welfare system.

Go to the relevant films to view fictionalised cases which show what happens when a child protection conference is held and similarly when a family group conference takes place.

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Advice during the Coronavirus Crisis

Delivering family group conferences during the Coronavirus crisis

This guide is written to help local authorities, during the crisis, to work in partnership with families. It describes how remote technology can be used to continue to enable family group conferences to be offered to families and to support their children during the Coronavirus outbreak.

Top tips guide for kinship carers to help children maintain relationships

This top tips guide is intended to support kinship carers to help children to safely maintain a relationship with those who are important to them, including their parents, brothers, sisters and friends, even if they cannot visit them.

Advice guide for parents and families with a child in the care system

In this guide, we have set out some creative ways in which relationships can be maintained and you can support your child during the Coronavirus crisis, even if you cannot visit them.

Join the Virtual Lobby of Parliament during Kinship Care Week 5-11 October

We are asking kinship carers and people with insight into kinship care to meet their local MPs online. Sign up to take part and make the case for a better deal for kinship carers.

Delivering good practice initial assessments of family and friends carers in the context of Covid-19

A new appendix to the existing good practice guide for practitioners assessing whether a family member or friend might be a potentially realistic option to be a carer for a child who cannot live safely with their parents.

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