Usually, people do not think of IT when they think of building relationships, though, perhaps this has changed with the lockdown. We know now that digital poverty as well as digital literacy are so important in maintaining or building a relationship over a distance. However, there is a second aspect to how digital systems affect relationships: the way that records, policies and communication are kept within an organisation. With both aspects, it is easy to underestimate how they influence relationships.
Digital poverty is something that disproportionately affects young people who have been in care. Beyond that, young people currently in care are likely to have less access to digital devices and internet in comparison to their peers. This inequality has been highlighted by the pandemic, but it has existed before and continues to exist. Lack of access to digital devices and internet can severely impact their ability to build and maintain relationships.
Local government and third sector organisations often invest less in IT systems than comparable organisations in the private sector. However, good IT can significantly improve how colleague communicate and consequently the work they do with young people. For instance, a secure electronic way of keeping records can help with the sharing of relevant information, improving the handover between colleagues. Within IT systems it can also be easier to control what information is shared, as not all services need access to an entire record. This is something that young people highlight often, so it is important to consider it when setting up IT.
The IT infrastructure in your organisation needs to fit the needs of the organisation and the young people who you interact with. Naturally, if you want to make your IT more relational, you need to evaluate if the current structure meets those needs.
Evaluation questions for discussion with team members and young people:
Does the IT meet the needs of the organisation?
Do the current structures meet the need of young people?
Some quick fixes (choose as applicable to your service):
Relationships are an important part of everyone’s life. For example, everything we learn as children depends on others teaching us. But did you know that good relationships also have an influence on our physical and mental health (Griffith, 2017)? Relationship-based practice combines what we know about childhood development, trauma, resilience, and relationships to promote the best for children and adolescents.
Early life experiences shape our mind and body in ways that we are understanding more and more, especially when these experiences are traumatic. Trauma-informed practice takes this knowledge and creates a holistic framework for practitioners and organisations to create healing and safe spaces and ways of working.
First introductions matter. It matters when, how and where they happen. Many young people speak about transitions are often the most difficult times. In this Guide we explore how transitions can be done from the lens of relational practice.
When you know your goal you do whatever you need to do to reach it. But what if you defined the goal in the wrong way? In this Guide we explore how the goal affects your actions and how you can make sure that you are measuring your success in the right way. Are you meeting an outcome or are you filling a need?
One of the first things you learn when you start your job is when you need to arrive and when you need to leave. Have you ever considered that the pattern of your work affects the relationships you are building?
Organisational values influence the working culture. They can inspire workers to follow the organisation's mission. However, for them to have an impact they need to be developed with staff and young people.
It is important to keep learning and growing. Recognise your staff’s value and expertise by developing internal training and discussion sessions. Enable staff to learn and train more. Training should not be a tick-box exercise but a place for growth and reflection.
As is often said, hurt people hurt people – it is even more important to consider the flipside: supported people support people. Working with young people and caring for them can be a demanding role, especially in under-resourced and stressful environments. A truly relational organisation also invests in the relationships between managers and staff, creating a positive environment for everyone.
Relationships do not just depend on one person, but rather on a network of people and the culture of an organisation. Sometimes one person who simple ‘doesn’t get it’ can put barriers in the way for an entire team to become less relational. So, it’s easy to see why recruiting the right people is so important to create and maintain a relational organisation.
All relationships take time and effort to build and develop relationships with young people with care experience is no exception, perhaps being even more difficult due to their backgrounds however with the right understanding and approach you could develop a strong and positive connection which will benefit both you and your young person.
Relationships are essential to all parts of life and encompass both our professional and personal lives. They are a vital part of the support networks for our young people and the stronger the relationship the better we can all do our jobs, perhaps making them feel less like a job and more like a vocation. And perhaps more importantly, the stronger the relationship the more important a young person might feel.