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Using the Personal Stories in TIPS to Engage Parents 

Each of Rise's TIPS on visiting includes one or two personal stories that model how parents coped with visiting challenges. Caseplanners can use these stories as stepping off points to explore parents' perspectives on challenges in their own visits.

It's often easier for people to think creatively when reflecting on another person's experience. It's less threatening to be asked, "Why do you think this mom did that?" than, "Why did you do that?" (This technique is called "externalizing.") It's possible to open exploratory conversations by saying things like: "I thought it was really interesting how this mom prepared for her visits. What do you think of the way she set up her visits?" 

Even if the conversation is not great, these kinds of questions can communicate respect. They show that you're interested in who a parent is and what she thinks.

They also show that you think about the parent between meetings. Being "held in mind" is a profound part of secure attachment. Simply letting parents know, "I was thinking about you..." can help them feel cared about. It can also help parents convey similar care to their children.  

Conversation Starters

You can open up a conversation by saying something simple like, "Have you seen these TIPS? They're written by parents who have had kids in foster care, too. I was reading this one and I was thinking about you." 

"Winning Him Back" in Making the Most of Visits describes how consistency helped Lynne Miller win back her son's trust, despite the awkwardness and guilt of visits. 

You can say: "I was impressed that this mom felt so awkward and guilty in visits but kept trying. How do you think she kept going?" 

"Eat, Play, Love" in What You Need to Know About Visits describes how a parent prepared for visits and created a consistent routine.

You can say, "I noticed that this mom felt more comfortable when she made a routine for her time with her daughter. What do you think about that? What stands out to you in the story?" 

"Closer Than Ever" in Handling Painful Feelings During Visits shows how the writer, Sandra Evans, learned to be more consistent, playful and involved with her kids.

You can say, "When I was reading this, I was thinking, 'Wow, at first this mom really didn't think she was valuable to her children -- she didn't that her attention mattered to them.' Does that surprise you?"

"Starting Over" in Handling Painful Feelings During Visits shows how the writer, Melissa Landrau, didn't show up for visits for months because she felt depressed and unworthy of being a parent.

You can say, "I was thinking about her first visits back with her daughters--when they didn't recognize her. What do you think that was like?"

"Your Actions Are Setting You Back" in Helping Children Heal During Visits shows how the parent, Jeanette Vega, felt uncomfortable, sad and angry in visits and kept blowing up.

You can say: "I was surprised that this conversation with a caseworker actually helped this mom calm down. What do you think of that? Why do you think that conversation made a difference?"

If a parent seems interested in talking, you can turn the conversation to their own experience: "Has visiting been like this for you? What have you been doing to deal with these kinds of feelings? Is there anything I could be doing to support you?

You can also use the stories as a chance to reassure parents: "I see you being playful like this mom." Or, "I've been seeing you doing the same as this mom--you're making a real effort to make visits positive even when you're upset." 

Rise's writing process has been influenced by the work of Australian therapists Michael White and David Epston, authors of Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends, who developed a way of "externalizing" problems so that individuals and families can think together about how to outwit nasty problems that are wreaking havoc in their lives.

In short,"externalizing" conveys that the person is not the problem; the problem is the problem. That can give people the chance to take action against the problem.

For instance, if feeling unworthy is causing a parent to miss visits, it's possible to ask: "Can you see how That Feeling of Being Worthless has been telling you to stay home and avoid your child? How did you manage to defy That Feeling of Being Worthless and come to this meeting today? In what other ways have you stood up for yourself and not let That Feeling of Being Worthless push you around?" 

Narrative therapy is not simple but it can offer interesting techniques for conveying that you and a parent are on the same team, aligned in working together against the problem. 
Copyright © 2017 Rise, All rights reserved.

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