How can we communicate better with a person’s family and friends?

One of the most difficult decisions I made as a parent was choosing the nursery for my first daughter Ellie.

I started by asking friends for recommendations. Then I looked at websites. In the end, it came down to choice between two nurseries. After visiting both, what swung my decision was a seemingly tiny detail… but one that made a big difference.

A simple piece of paper

Every day, the nursery gave each parent a slip of paper. It contained some information about how long their child had slept for, and how many ounces of milk they had taken. This simple action of communicating with us as parents was what made me choose one nursery over another. As well as being a practical aid to us, it showed that they understood the need for parents to know what was going on whilst the child was in their care. In fact, it simply showed that they cared.

This approach to communication matters to families in many situations, not just in a nursery setting.

When we were working at a care home for people living with dementia, we asked families what was working and not working about the changes being made. One family member said that as their mum cIMG_5046ould not remember or tell them what she had been doing, how could the daughter know what had been happening, to have conversations about it?

Using technology to keep in touch

We started to take photos of people when they were doing things that mattered to them, and sharing these with families. Through Community Circles, I am part of May’s Circle of Support, and realised that this would be the same for May’s niece.

The purpose of May’s circle was to get her singing again, but May could not tell her niece how it was going, or even whether she had been singing. May and I take a selfie when we are out together, and I text it to her niece, who usually texts back with a message for May, or even a selfie.

That works for her niece, but I wanted to find a way to help May remember too, and to make it easy for staff to talk to her about it. I found an app called Touchnote, which makes your photos into a postcard and posts it for you too to the address of your choice for a couple of pounds. I use this to make the selfie into a postcard, and this is then sent to May. Usually I see them up in her room, and I hope it helps her remember being part of a choir. It’s effective, easy, and economical; and just goes to show how a bit of research into what’s out there can make a big difference.

Using social networks in a new way

I am also part of Jennie’s circle. Jennie’s support staff use Facebook as a way to share what Jennie is doing, so her family can see photos of her out and about, or sketching. Jennie is launching a range of cards soon, with the support of her circle and Community Catalysts, and it is lovely to see her actually drawing as well as the final versions on her Jennie’s Facebook page for her art. Jennie’s team also put together a collection of the photosgraphs each year and turn them into a photobook, using an online service. There are lots of apps and websites that can do that easily.

Building great communication into the way we work

I am working with a homecare organisation to see how far we can go to offer a truly person-centred service for people.

Part of this explores how to support people to keep in touch with their families.

We are creating a range of ways – similar to the ones mentioned here – such as:

  • posting on Facebook (perhaps a closed Facebook group just for family)
  • texting or emailing photos
  • creating an annual book of photos
  • postcards from photos
  • simply a quick summary each week, done with the person.

When the service is designed with the person and their families, we could find out what would work best for people and try that. At each six monthly review, we could also review how we are doing communicating with the family, and whether they want to try another way.

We are also exploring this by employing the first Community Circle Connectors with a home care provider in Flintshire and at a residential care home in Blackburn. Here we will see how intentionally building community around a person, through a Community Circle facilitator, as well as providing personalised home care, could help us learn how to support people well at home, in a residential home, and in their community.

Communication is fundamental, not frivolous

At a time when we see more shocking reports about how poor some home care services are, and the impact of the cuts, it can be hard to keep believing that we can do more, and do better. Better communication with families may just seem like the icing on the cake. Yet the longest research into happiness published recently confirmed what we knew; that relationships are central to happiness. With that in mind, we need to reframe how we think about supporting communication with friends and family as a central pillar of the care and support we provide. In the age of instant communication, anywhere at any time, we really have no excuse not to.