Ohana is a Hertfordshire County Council project built in partnership with care experienced parents to offer them emotional and practical support, a range of educational and social activities and the opportunity to share their lived experiences and help change social work practice.
“Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.”
Ohana is a Hertfordshire County Council project built in partnership with care experienced parents to offer them support; a peer support network, a volunteer offering emotional and practical support, access to Lifelong Links, a range of educational and social activities and the opportunity to share their lived experiences and help change social work practice.
Ohana is easily accessible; parents can self-refer or be referred by professionals and are free to access Ohana whenever they want.
Innovation is at the heart of Ohana. We listen to what parents are struggling with, and work with them to find and build new relationships, as we have found that supportive networks are key to helping lasting changes.
As we know being a parent is one of the hardest jobs in the world and often comes with little or no training. This job became even more challenging during the Covid-19 Pandemic, which showed us all how easy it was to become disconnected and isolated from family, friends, loved ones and each other.
For young parents who are ‘Care Experienced’, where traditional family and social networks are more limited, there was an added sense of isolation and being a parent became even harder.
“We feel lonely with no one to talk to.”
“We find it difficult to meet other parents who are like us.”
“We are struggling with our mental health and accessing services.”
“We lack practical and emotional support from family or others.”
“We experience heightened stress and anxiety when facing challenges alone.”
In listening to parents and recognising the difficulties being faced, Hertfordshire County Council in partnership with parents, set up the Ohana project, with the aim of helping parents to build new and supportive relationships that could offer ongoing support to parents and their children.
Ohana offers a range of support building opportunities including; weekly peer support groups, a volunteer (Ohana Champion) who offers parents emotional and practical support, access to Lifelong Links to find and connect with important people, a range of educational and social activities and opportunities to share their lived experiences and help change professional practice.
Ohana is successfully building a community of support for care experienced parents and their children. Since April 2021 over a 100 parents and partners have been involved with Ohana and 127 support sessions attended.
We currently have 20 Ohana Champions supporting parents in a range of different ways. Parents have been actively involved in the recruitment of Champions, from writing job descriptions, interviewing and contributing to training.
Parents have identified and participated in many activities such as parenting programmes, first aid course, self-defence course, Music school events and summer activities at the local splash park.
Parents have shared their lived experiences and ideas on how to improve professional practice having worked with Cardiff University to create the Key message post cards for Corporate Parents and recently presented at the East of England Social Work conference.
How is the new approach being sustained?
Hertfordshire County Council is committed to continuing to support care experienced parents and their children through the Ohana project and is continually seeking to identify both internal and external sources of income to sustain and expand the offer.
We have learnt the value of listening and working in partnership with parents, when developing and delivering services to ensure that what we are offering is what is needed.
The staff working with Ohana need to be genuine, consistent, committed, tenacious and caring when it comes to engaging and supporting parents to participate and build new relationships.
Ben Carr, email: [email protected]