A Day in the Life of a Family Support Worker

Jacqui Cairns, a Family Support Worker for Children 1st, talks about how family support transforms children and families’ lives.

When you get alongside a family amazing things happen for children. Every day I work with families who want the best for their children in the face of incredible challenges. While I’m based in a school, day to day you’ll find me wherever the children and families I work with need me to be.

If the school is worried about a child they’ll meet their parents or carers. I’ll come into the meeting and begin to get to know them. It’s so important to understand everything that’s happening. I try really hard to understand what’s happening for the parents, as well as the child.

I also spend time with the family at home. It can be interesting to watch because I’ll know the children from school. Sometimes they act differently at home. It’s about getting to know them both as a family and as individuals.

Some of the families I support are experiencing things like poverty, health issues or the complications of being a single parent family. Some families have had bad experiences in the past and are worried about asking for help. Sometimes they just don’t know where to turn.

Poverty is a constant issue. Families are struggling to get by from one day to the next and there’s a lot of guilt involved in that. Things like getting a washing machine, replacing a fridge, or paying for transport to school can be impossible. For a child this can mean they don’t make it to class or are too hungry to concentrate. I sort funding applications and help families get support from other services. We also have a dedicated Money Advice Worker, Lisa McNaughtan, who is a huge help.

Sorting the practical stuff can give families a bit of breathing space. Then they can focus on other issues they haven’t had time to think about before. By building a relationship with a family I build their trust, and they feel able to talk about how they would like their situation to change and what support they need.

I’m not saying I’ve got a magic wand or anything like it. Sometimes it takes a lot of perseverance for a family to arrive at where they want to be. I work with a family for as long as they need me. It could be working out a health plan with a parent and going to appointments with them. It could be helping them get more involved in the local community, like taking the kids to clubs that keep them busy and happy. Or getting the extended family round the table and having a conversation about what’s best for the child.

Some of the children that I work with tell me they have adults in their life that let them down. So I need to be reliable. For some children, school is the only thing that’s consistent in their lives. I’m part of that. They need to know I’ll be there when I say I will. Whatever’s going on at home, I’m around.

Children don’t get to choose what happens at home. If there’s no money, or mum’s sick, or dad’s away they just have to go along with it. But they will be going through all sorts of emotions – anxiety, fear, anger and or sadness. Teaching children to talk about and accept their feelings is so important. It can help them do well at school and cope with what’s going on at home.

I see children and parents transform as they learn about each other’s feelings, work on their relationships and make practical changes in their lives. Together they become stronger, safer and happier.