New trial producing positive outcomes for families

News, Prevention & Strengthening | Posted May 26, 2020
New trial producing positive outcomes for families

Common Elements is a new program designed to improve family communication skills and is currently being trialled by practitioners in OzChild’s family services and foster care teams.

To support an evidence-informed and integrated child and family service system, the Centre for Evidence and Implementation was commissioned by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to work with the Centre for Excellence to identify a number of evidence-informed common practice elements that could be applied across the child and family service system and to develop and trial a ‘Common Elements Approach’ to implementing them effectively across the service system.

The unique Common Elements approach has been producing positive outcomes for families in need of additional support.

“OzChild has been part of this trial and is implementing two elements, Motivational Interviewing and Communication Skills,” says OzChild’s Family Services Case Manager, Harshini.

“I have been using both motivational interviewing and communication skills and the two skills were easily implemented to have better outcomes for the family.”

“I have been using both motivational interviewing and communication skills and the two skills were easily implemented to have better outcomes for the family.”

Throughout the trial, case managers work with individual families to implement the new strategies and techniques.

“I am working with a family where Anna* and Tom* are the parents of an adult child and a 10 year old. Anna and Tom have been in a relationship for a significant amount of time with the relationship being characterised by conflicts and daily arguments between the two,” says Harshini.

“Anna and Tom have identified that the relationship is toxic, however are wanting to address this as they feel their conflict is having an impact on their children.”

By implementing new communication skills and techniques, Harshini has been able to work through the families’ issues, teaching them new ways to communicate.

Harshini adds, “they have learnt to take turns so each person has the opportunity to express their thoughts, views, and listen to the other person’s perspective.”

“More importantly, they have learnt to identify when their frustrations start to escalate, call a code word for a timeout – for example watermelon, which instantly lightens the environment.”

With the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and subsequent enforced lockdown, implementing these techniques has not been easy and it has thrown up a new set of challenges for Harshini and her colleagues.

“Not being able to be there in person to observe the non-verbal communication to its full extent has been the main challenge in working remotely,” says Harshini, “However, on the flipside this has presented almost the perfect opportunity to introduce communication skills, particularly having to set the ground rules for communication from the get-go.”

Despite these challenges, the families’ ability to communicate which each other has improved significantly since working with Harshini.

They now take turns to talk rather than talking over each other and remind each other to listen when someone is speaking, including the children.

“Anna and Tom were also able to identify the improvements in their communication skills and we tracked this by rating their experience of where they felt communication was at before the communication skills sessions and after.”

Harshini is in no doubt about the value of the Common Elements program and would like to see similar programs rolled out across the sector.

“Rolling out similar programs within the sector would mean there is a base level of understanding of evidence-informed practices and a suite of evidence-informed ways of working with clients that we can implement to address the issues faced by our clients.”

“It would also mean there is a base level of skill within the workforce which of course means better outcomes for families.”

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of this family

Learn more about Common Elements.

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