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When children have suffered neglect and abuse in their birth family and the additional stress of moving into new families, we as social workers want to ensure that when they are finally placed with their permanent family, we have done all we can to support the situation so that it can be as happy, healthy and positive as possible.

It can be really frightening for children to trust their new parents, understand a new way of having a relationship and to believe that they are worthy of love and kindness. In these situations, children can create barriers to prevent closeness, and from their perspective, keep themselves safe from future pain. In turn, these barriers can feel like rejection and can result in parents putting up their own defences. Baylin and Hughes describe this as ‘Blocked Care’.

The importance of the reciprocal relationship is central to Dyadic Developmental Practice (DDP). The therapeutic worker helps the family to develop healthy patterns of relating and communicating so that they all feel safe and connected. Involving the parent in this therapeutic work is a critical part of its success.

Children can be helped to deal with their experience of trauma and loss, increase their abilities to regulate emotional states, improve reflective functioning and their ability to socialise with adults and peers.

This is achieved by helping parents with day-to-day parenting based on the principles of PACE: Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity and Empathy.

At Adoptionplus, our multi-disciplinary team have used DDP for a number of years and have found it to be an effective and helpful intervention. The standardised measures we use to evaluate our therapeutic interventions, and the feedback we have received from parents and children supports this approach.

This positive experience led to us trialing a new DDP group intervention developed by Dr Kim Golding called the Nurturing Attachments Group programme. We utilised a DfE innovation grant to trial the programme in four locations around the UK and worked with Professor Julie Selwyn from Bristol University to evaluate the model. The findings, published in July 2016 were really positive.

One parent reported “[the course] has been life changing for me on every sort of level I’d say, you know with my adopted child, with my birth child, with my relationships”. What was most powerful when speaking to the parents involved, was just how important the therapeutic worker’s ability to model a PACE attitude was to the experience of the parents. Parents talked of it being the first intervention they had where they felt really safe, accepted and not judged. Interestingly, some of the parents said they had read books about PACE, but didn’t really understand it fully until they experienced it for themselves. And it was the Acceptance aspect of PACE that appeared to have the biggest impact on those parents. In turn many of them spoke about being able to accept their child and their situation.

For us as an agency, this was really informative as we recognised that it was not just the parenting programme that had been helpful, but the skills of the therapeutic workers leading the groups that significantly contributed to its success. This has implications for rolling out this programme and other DDP approaches as it is clear that effective provision requires skilled and experienced DDP practitioners. To develop these practitioners, organisations need to invest in training, clinical supervision and ultimately accreditation or certification in this approach. Not only does it create effective practitioners, we believe it can also help with motivation and creating a healthy work culture. As social workers, the majority of us are working hard and doing our best to make a positive difference to people’s lives where we can. When it comes to having a better understanding of what works and improving service provision, we’d take Curiosity and Empathy any day of the week, as opposed to criticism and blame.

As part of the next step on our DDP journey, in addition to our ongoing provision of the Nurturing Attachment Group Programme, we are also establishing the first DDP certified social work team in the UK. We are keen to understand the benefits a DDP therapeutic social work approach and are working with the University of East Anglia to assist with this.

For more information on ‘further reading’ on Dyadic Developmental Practice, take a look at the latest issue of Sanctuary Social Work News (page 25). 

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