• Creating a Community Where Everyone Belongs

My Life Blog – Caroline Tomlinson: “Why empowering families through shared experience achieves so much when navigating the care system.”

Recently, the latest of our three-week Family Leadership courses came to a close. They are a thought-provoking experience not just for the families who participate in them but for My Life as an organisation too.

So in this month’s blog I thought it might be useful to explain not just what these courses do, but the huge impact of taking time out of the day-to-day grind of the care system to find a more mindful and positive way to plan a meaningful future for people.

There was one comment after the course which summed it all up for me: “Every so often I need an injection of positivity and energy to get me back on track to working towards my dreams and goals for my son and our family. I absolutely got this.”

So the basic premise behind the Family Leadership course – which is free – is for interested families to consider what a good life might look like for themselves and their loved ones who need support. Too often, sadly, people come to us in moments of crisis, unsure of the next steps in the care of their loved one. Sometimes, they tell us that they feel they are not being listened to – or receiving the care and support they need.

While the course isn’t about finding an immediate solution to such pressing issues, what it does do is take a step back from that moment of crisis and ask people to think more deeply about what they really want. We look at how people can influence change, develop new solutions and build action plans. The course emphasises the importance of community networks and teases out the additional support that might be available – we can use our vast experience in care and support to help families navigate through the system.

Somebody told me that they learnt much more than they ever could trying to Google what the care system structure is and how to navigate it successfully. Which is great, but I was just as encouraged by what she said next. “I learnt to have more confidence in my own ability and aspirations,” she added – and some of that comes from the atmosphere in the room.

We want the Family Leadership courses to be a collaborative experience, rather than simply me talking about my journey from the front of the room. I always say to people that they might learn 10 per cent from me, but 90 per cent will come from the other people who are in the same situation. What most find is that they have knowledge acquired from a professional who is a specialist in a specific area, but the only people who have a broad understanding of the care ecosystem are other families. So I encourage people to find stories from others, take the parts that are relevant and start to carve a plan that works best for them.

This development of a plan for where people want to be in five years’ time comes after we’ve discussed their hopes for the future and looked at the practical inputs necessary to make these wishes happen. But it’s who people need to enrol and involve to activate and maintain that plan which is critical. We call it a circle of support, which has become fundamental to the whole idea of My Life as a community where everyone belongs. We often come across people who say they have nobody they can turn to – or they feel embarrassed to ask for help – so if we can facilitate just one person to come into their circle, then we will have succeeded.

It’s interesting how much emotion people bring to these courses. I understand why, of course. People become resentful – quite naturally – about what they can’t do, rather than consider what is possible. Which is why I see family leadership as a form of life coaching – ultimately we’re asking people to understand their situation and their future, and in so doing be mindful in their decision making. The course spends some time steering people away from this idea of ‘fighting the system,’ even if it has yet to work for them; by understanding how local authorities work and planning a future within that infrastructure you can develop positive, considerate and professional relationships with those who provide support. All of which means you are far more likely to be able to live that smoother, more manageable life you envisage for yourself and your family.

As someone else said, the idea of planning rather than being planned for, even if those plans have to change, is really valuable. Presenting solutions rather than expecting social services to come up with a plan is possible. And actually, much of this approach is based on a model called Planning Alternative Tomorrows with Hope, a person-centred planning tool which definitely worked with my family; it’s the empowerment of people in all aspects of their life with an innate understanding of mutual regard and respect. That’s why this course is free and we give people lunch; we are living out the theory that hospitality and kindness is much more likely to result in positive outcomes. The fact that someone told me the food and hospitality was good on the course is another win!

We’ve now begun to take some of the elements of the course that have really changed lives and approaches and applied them in bespoke life-coaching sessions for families who can’t access Standish. We’re going to train staff to be ‘circle facilitators’ so that we can offer this coaching based around a network of support to anyone at any time.

Because ultimately, family leadership – and My Life – is about looking after people. It’s about getting people together, giving them information and food for thought, and encouraging them to make positive connections.

Caroline Tomlinson, My Life Founder and Chief Executive Officer

To enquire about our next Family Leadership course or family life-coaching sessions and how we can help you, call 01257 472 900, or email info@my-life.org.uk.

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One response to “My Life Blog – Caroline Tomlinson: “Why empowering families through shared experience achieves so much when navigating the care system.””

  1. Selina Fraser says:

    It was an excellent course. I learnt so much and came away with lots of actions. Most importantly is mindset. Belief that it’s possible to get the life you want for your loved one, which of course they deserve. Caroline is the perfect example as she has done it for her son. I’d go on the course again as I’d learn different things from different families attending and their experiences. The course came at the right time for me as I was feeling nervous about what to expect for my 15 year old when she turns 18. Thank you 😊

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