Family Stories - a new approach to help solve a national social care crisis

Family stood on beach

The approach will help establish lasting change in complex families

  • 24 October 2019
  • 3 min read

A new approach to social care provision aims to decrease the rate of re-referral and increase positive outcomes.

The revolutionary new model, known as GEMS, has been developed by Emma Maynard, from the School of Education and Sociology at the  University of Portsmouth, to help establish lasting change in complex families.  It is an approach specifically for families who have had social care intervention previously, but who have found it difficult to maintain long term change.  The new model will be rolled out by Portsmouth City Council this month as training of practitioners commences.

It is estimated that 54 per cent of families in the social care system are re-referred within five years.  Emma set out to address the question - why do over half the families supported by social care return repeatedly for more help? A problem so significant, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (2018) have termed it a ‘national crisis’. 

Although it is a known phenomenon, until now, very little research has looked at this pattern of re-referral.   Emma recognised that there was potential for a ‘fresh approach’.

The challenge of social care is asking people to change in line with certain professional expectations. Social care services exist to increase the likelihood of positive outcomes for children, making crucial interventions to keep children safe. However, the family can feel threatened by this intervention, which in turn, affects the extent to which they sustain change long term. Emma’s theory is based on practitioners being aware of the psychological stress caused by feeling threatened by the ‘authorities’, in a life already fraught with violence, abuse, poverty and marginalisation.  

 

GEMS can be any reference within someone's story that holds deep significance for them; it could be positive or negative, representing conflict confusion or success.

Emma Maynard, Senior Lecturer, School of Education and Sociology

The new model is designed to compliment other programmes. GEMS seeks to look at the ‘whole’ family story.  It is based on practitioners finding GEMS - something in someone’s story that holds deep significance to them.  Rather than just focusing on the parent and their child - GEMS pays particular attention to the ‘parents’ story.  It recognises the complex patterns which cause certain behaviours to be normal in the context of that family.  

Emma Maynard explains that: “GEMS can be any reference within someone's story that holds deep significance for them; it could be positive or negative, representing conflict confusion or success.”

Intervening alone can disrupt the family balance because traditional services are often there to challenge and question people. It can quite literally flip people’s understanding of their world, causing them to question their own childhoods, their identity and their futures. This can often cause a negative response resulting in a failure of long lasting positive results, ultimately reflected in the re-referral patterns. 


When we ask people to change for good, we are asking them to transform and that can only occur through learning. For learning to work it must resonate at an emotional level - it must ‘click’ with an individual and hold meaning in their lives.

Emma Maynard , Senior Lecturer, School of Education and Sociology

Emma Maynard explains:  “When we ask people to change for good, we are asking them to transform and that can only occur through learning.  For learning to work it must resonate at an emotional level - it must ‘click’ with an individual and hold meaning in their lives. The GEMS programme understands the impact of threat on people’s capacity for change, and re-positions intervention as a process of learning and reflection for transformation.”

The anticipated outcome for the GEMS programme is that each family leaves the process  with a clear, self-inspired model that is unique to them - a programme that will last.  

By giving families the tools to be able to sustain a family balance it is hoped that there will also be wider reaching benefits.   

Cutting down on re-referrals will have reductions in other areas:

  • Further risk to children and vulnerable adults in these families. 
  • Social burden on schools. 
  • Cost to local authorities and society as a whole. 

Emma Maynard is a Doctor of Education, a Chartered Psychologist and a Senior Fellow, School of Education and Sociology at the University of Portsmouth 

 

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