Working in a multicultural borough in north east London, the Hamara Family Project prided itself on developing the skills and services that met the needs of the local south Asian and black children and their families. But this partnership between Barnardo’s and the London Borough of Waltham Forest, which provided services to disabled children and young people and their families, became increasingly aware that it was not engaging with the local Turkish community.
“Children had been referred for several years, but no children were receiving services,” says Andrea de Berker, children’s service manager. “We decided that it might be helpful for one particular worker to deal with new families as they were referred, to see whether we could better understand why this was happening. After initial assessment visits to four families undertaken with different interpreters each time, our Hamara social worker remained dissatisfied with the assessments of family need and the relationships she was establishing with families and children.”
On average, initial family visits would take between one and one-and-a-half hours; a visit to a Turkish family, with an interpreter, would never exceed 45 minutes. “It would create no relationship with the worker and the quality and quantity of the information did not enable the worker to link the family’s needs to the services on offer,” says de Berker.
Social worker Maxine Watson adds: “I was allocated my first Turkish family a few years ago and had to do a home visit with an interpreter. This was my first direct experience of working with an interpreter and it went well.
“However, as time went on, I was nicknamed the ‘expert on working with Turkish families’ so every referral that came through was given to me.
“I continued to work with the interpreters, but there was something missing. Although assessments were completed, there was never a sense of ‘belonging’ for the family. Any communication would have to be through the interpreting service. This was formal and time consuming. It also left me feeling uneasy and as though I had failed to meet any of their needs.”
In January 2002, the Hamara (which is an Urdu and spoken Hindi word meaning “Our”) project piloted a scheme with a Turkish-speaking person who could offer a wider contact base than merely interpreting. “As luck would have it, one of the local Turkish interpreters was already known to us as she had a child with Down’s syndrome,” says de Berker. Julie Miller works six hours a week as the Turkish access officer and has revisited all previously referred families, and has even referred families whom she has come across in her work as an interpreter.
“I know only too well what it is like to cope with a disabled child, but it makes it twice as difficult when there is no knowledge of English and you can’t get access to services,” says Miller, who believes that Turkish families with disabled children usually suffer in silence.
“The children are hidden indoors and most never had schooling in their own countries. They are socially excluded, so their families are isolated and expected to cope on their own. Generally, they do not ask for things.”
Watson believes there have been changes now. She says: “The families have some continuity in terms of having contact with
someone with whom they can identify. They are more confident and willing to accept the difficulties they are facing as refugees and parents with disabled children.”
Miller agrees: “They know that there is help out there and there’s no need to continue to suffer alone.”
And the work hasn’t stopped there. Watson says: “We have taken it one stage further and have regular support groups for the families. This has given families a chance to come out of their houses to meet each other and, at the same time, we can offer the support they may require.”
Scheme: Turkish Access Scheme.
Location: Waltham Forest, north east London.
Staffing: Social worker, four hours a week; Turkish access worker, six hours a week.
Inspiration: Despite regular referrals of Turkish children, services were never taken up – staff wanted to improve this situation.
cost: £8,900 a year for staff, administration and refreshments.