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Parting words from one of our Family Consultants

Gail Hanrahan has been a Family Consultant with Dimensions for over five years. It has been her role, alongside Liz Wilson, to listen to the voices of the families and friends of people we support and make sure they are being heard at all levels throughout the organisation. Here is a short message from her as she leaves Dimensions.

Gail, third from the left, recently went to India to promote person-centred support.

After just over five years as a Family Consultant I’m leaving Dimensions. I’m leaving to work full time for a small local charity that I helped set up almost 10 years ago called Oxfordshire Family Support Network.

This is a job I’ve been doing alongside my role as Family Consultant so when the opportunity arose to work full time as Programme Manager it was too good an opportunity to turn down. Working part time for two jobs has not been without its challenges for me personally and so I’m really excited about my new post but, I’m also very sad to be leaving Dimensions.

I’ve learned so much in the last five years that I’ll be able to take with me into my new role. As the mum to a young man with learning disabilities, I’ve developed a real insight into how a support provider works, some of the difficulties and some of the complex relationships that can exist between families and the people who provide support to their loved ones.

Like the support given to people with learning disabilities, involvement and working with families has to be personalised and person-centred. But, like all relationships, it’s never ‘black and white’, always ‘grey’ and sometimes very complicated.

Families sometimes come to us with a negative reputation, either from a past provider or the local authority. Our approach with the people we support depends on us ignoring those reputations and starting afresh with a clean slate. This must apply to families too. Respecting one another and trying to understand each other from different perspectives – not judging each other for our responses is the way forward. While that’s difficult too, it’s not impossible when you take the time to listen and learn from each other.

Person-centred approaches give us the tools to do this but person-centred thinking comes from the heart as well as the head. Thinking about what you would feel like in another’s position is crucial in understanding why we all behave the way we do or say what we say.

Just as good support depends on good communication, good relationships with families depends on it too. Being honest and open, apologising when we get things wrong – we will always get things wrong from time to time. Working together to put things right, real partnership working is the only way to work. Sharing the good stuff too makes all the difference, builds better relationships and builds trust. Everyone benefits, it’s a win win.

I’ve witnessed a real culture shift over the last five years and long may it continue. We now hear from more families than ever before and hear what’s working and not working for them in many different ways, through quality reviews, Executive team ‘listening’ events, as well as the regular survey. And, families feeling they can just pick up the phone or email to tell us directly.

We are now involving and engaging with families more and hear directly from Operations Directors from each region regularly who feed back how that looks on the ground. We include families in staff appraisals and now ask for their feedback in safeguarding incidents. And, while there’s more to do, it is worth reflecting that we’ve come a long way and are definitely on the right path.

I just want to say finally that I’ve really loved working for Dimensions. I’ve been very proud to work for an organisation with great values and a real determination to involve families in the lives of their loved ones. I feel blessed to have worked with some of the most wonderful and inspirational people, who I now count as friends. Not least Liz Wilson, who I’m happy to say will be continuing the work we both started.

I wish you all very best wishes for the future and continued success in everything you do.