How we work – Intervention

Developing Attachment/Relationship
Objective: To provide each member of the family – children and parents – with a reliable, positive relationship which mirrors that of a positive parent-child relationship, and which can then begin to inform the quality of other relationships in their lives.

What are the key elements of practice?
What we do and why:
This stage involves creating a safe, protective relationship with each family member, parents and children, as individuals. An experience of attachment underpins the entire empowerment process for children or parents. The positive relationship formed between a key worker and the child or parent seeks to provide an experience which challenges their negative expectations of how people will treat them and therefore their need to remain “resistant” to trust.

At this stage the focus is on:

1Transmitting feelings of being valued to create self-esteem. Establishing self-care and self-respect is a prerequisite to respecting and caring for others.

2Modelling a relationship which provides an alternative way to interact with others. A secure connection between the key worker and the child or parent will sustain future interventions with the individual and with the family as a whole. This close attachment will mean they are less likely to abandon the process when it becomes uncomfortable and difficult.

The following elements of practice are essential to creating this relationship:

  • Providing individual consistent attention for each person. This helps make the relationship feel special for each family member and avoids jealousies that arise from having to share time and attention in this newly found relationship.
  • Staff consistency. The same person must work with the child/parent each time.
  • Visiting regularly, demonstrating reliability, and the importance given to an individual’s needs. As most people in the past will have proved unreliable, Juconi workers must always keep their word to demonstrate that this is a different kind of relationship. This includes being punctual and always keeping appointments.
  • Listening carefully, accepting and responding to the needs the individual expresses and adapting to their schedules and priorities, to show that what they think and want genuinely matters to us.
  • Tailoring responses to each relationship: What works for one, might not work for another.
    • Holding the person in mind. Show that we remember what they have told us and that we have been thinking about them between visits.
    • Including male family members. Work on violence in the home has often been strongly linked with gender-based violence and responses have usually targeted women and girls as the primary, if not exclusive, beneficiaries. Involving male family members is a powerful catalyst to changing family dynamics and increases the likelihood of sustained change. As “the home” and children are often seen as the province of mothers, as special effort may well be required to include the men in this work with the family. Empowering mothers without including male partners can lead to more violence if men feel sidelined and do not have the skills to participate in any other way.


            • Encouraging strengths in each person, and highlighting those strengths observed in the child and parent, enabling the relationship to be experienced more positively and providing a basis for future work on change.
            • Reframing: taking opportunities to show things in a different light. For instance, with the mother who complains about her child’s incessant questions, find the moment to compliment her on having such a curious child.
            • Being consistent and expecting to be tested. Individuals may behave in challenging ways. Our practice has to involve consistency, patience, repetition, and “not taking the bait”. We must show that we are prepared to stick with them no matter how difficult they try to make it, as this is the stage when a child or parent may seek to push us away.


          During this stage many activities have a “double intent”. They are useful in themselves, such as help with basic literacy skills, but are also a vehicle for establishing the relationship and demonstrating reliability, consistency and trustworthiness. This could include, for example, securing birth registration papers or access to healthcare or a government grant.

          Observation of patterns of behaviour and interactions between family members is important to begin developing hypotheses about the experiences that might have generated such patterns and their current effect on the lives of family members. In the next stage of the process, we creatively find ways to help each person make this link between the past and present. It is important to keep an open mind always, to be curious and continue enriching the hypotheses with information drawn from different sources over time.

          Being attentive to and noticing apparently small changes, matters in assessing whether the intervention is working. Change will not necessarily be dramatic, however, and it can take quite a long time at the beginning of a process before it becomes very evident, as children and parents have a lot to lose if they trust someone new only to be let down again. It is important not to underestimate the importance of any change while at the same time taking care to adjust to what we do if it is not leading to any shift at all.
          Useful Techniques
                    • Active listening
                    • A strengths-based approach
                    • Games
                    • Creative activities such as drawing
                    • Helping a parent/child with their chores
          Case Study – Martha
          Martha opposed our working with her children. She was interested in any financial help we could give, but did not want to waste her time with us. She even refused to sit down with the key worker, Andrea, who came to visit her. Martha’s only source of income was to wash clothes for neighbours. Andrea noticed the piles of washing, so she proposed that instead of taking Martha away from her work, they could both wash clothes and chat. Martha was reluctant (difficulty with accepting genuine help is frequent among children and parents who have never been properly thought about as individuals). But Andrea visited three times a week and spent just a little over an hour washing clothes. At first they talked about how much work Martha had, and how she might make the business more profitable or the work less onerous. They then talked about the great burden that she had looking after her own children and those of her daughter (in reality these children were not at all looked after but very neglected). They then moved on to talk about Martha, her feelings and frustrations. Martha gained, probably for the first time in her life, the experience of having a person who listened to her and was interested in her for her own sake. Later, Martha said that washing clothes with Andrea was the first time she learned to talk about things that mattered to her.