Name: Jo Winsloe.
Job: Development officer,
Qualifications: BA in special educational
Last Job: Family support worker.
First Job: Secretary.
The principle of involving users as a means of improving
services is now widely accepted. In practice, however, it can be
difficult to find people with the time and inclination to take part
in consultations or act as user representatives on working groups
and management boards. The biggest hurdle to getting more people
involved is often convincing them that their role will be more than
Jo Winsloe, development officer for the charity Contact a
Family, is responsible for promoting the participation of parents
of disabled children in developing services in the London Borough
of Sutton. She says: “Parents may feel that it will be just a waste
of time and that nothing will come of it, so what’s the point
But Winsloe also finds that many parents are keen to play a part in
shaping services, and that there are ways of encouraging them to
stay involved. Some are as simple as saying “thank you” and giving
feedback to parents who have contributed. Enabling people to have
realistic expectations of possible outcomes of their participation
is crucial. “You have to be clear with parents from the outset what
a consultation is about and how much influence they can have. That
way they are less likely to be disillusioned,” she says.
Even when service commissioners are committed to listening to
users, responding to their concerns may take time. Winsloe has been
facilitating parent involvement in Sutton since 2001, when Contact
a Family was commissioned to carry out a consultation with parents
of disabled children. “One of the things that parents were asking
for was a keyworker system, so that a single person would be able
to co-ordinate care on behalf of their children. The service is now
up and running but it took three and a half years to do it.”
Winsloe ensured that other, simpler requests from the
consultation were acted upon quickly, so that parents could see the
borough was serious about their involvement. One of the other
requests from parents resulted in Contact a Family establishing a
The forum meets five or six times a year to discuss parents’
concerns and meet with senior professionals in the borough as well
as to contribute to other consultations. Three forum members are
now parent representatives on the board of the Sutton Children’s
Trust, one of only eight pathfinder trusts focusing specifically on
Winsloe points out that parents of disabled children have to
juggle even more competing demands than the rest of us, and
participating in a consultation exercise may not be a high
priority. She describes how the forum contributed to a local
consultation on the redesign of the aids and equipment service for
disabled people. “We ran a series of meetings, advertised the
consultation through our newsletter and sent out a questionnaire.
We got 11 responses. It doesn’t sound like many, but the quality of
the comments was high and the recommendations drawn from them have
been accepted by the board of the children’s trust.”
Because of the inevitable power imbalance between senior
managers sitting on a board and parent representatives, it is easy
for parents to be marginalised. Winsloe believes it is important
for parent representatives to feel valued and supported. She
arranged for parents to meet privately with the chair of the board.
“It’s about breaking down barriers and helping people to feel
comfortable with one another.”
As a member of the children’s trust board herself, Winsloe is
well-placed to ensure the needs of parent representatives are taken
into consideration. She says: “Meetings need to be held at times
that are convenient for parents. They also need to know that they
can claim expenses for things like child care.”
Winsloe pays tribute to the attitude of professionals and
managers in Sutton to working with parents. “People have been very
open and receptive. There’s a strong tradition in this borough of
positive interagency working.”
- Be clear about why you are consulting people and how much
influence they have.
- Offer practical support such as expenses for child care and
lunch if a meeting is over a lunchtime period.
- Thank people for taking part and give feedback about the
- Hold meetings between 3pm and 6pm when parents are picking up
children from school.
- Send out a ream of paperwork the day before a meeting with no
- At meetings wear a suit and give parents a Powerpoint
presentation full of jargon. That’ll impress them.