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Delivering Successful Online Support to families

Prof John Sharry, Founder Parents Plus and author of Solution-Focused Groupwork

Ground rules for online working

In addition, the normal ground rules for face to face working such as agreeing confidentiality and safeguarding/ child protection protocols, there are additional ground rules to consider when providing online support either individually or in groups.

Sample Online groundrules:

● Please keep children out of the camera view and keep screen as private as possible

● Please use headphones if you have them (so as others in home can’t hear content)

● Please press ‘mute’ if you are not talking

● Speak one at a time

● Put your hand up in the camera view when you want to speak or use hand up icon

● Put your thumbs up in the camera view when you agree or use icon

● Focus on positive and strengths based language when talking about children

● If you need to move away from the camera for a moment please press the ‘mute’ button

● Please put your phones on silent and if you need to take a call please press the ‘mute’ button

● Use the chat function to let the facilitator know something privately

Online groundrules should be discussed at introductory sessions and the first group session and ideally sent to parents as part of a contract. Allow parents to contribute to the making of the groundrules in their own words and give them space to add rules as needed.

Preparing parents for groups

Prior to starting an online group, it is essential to

1) Send out the Parent Book for the relevant Parents Plus Programme. The parent should have this book to hand for the group sessions as well a small notebook for making notes and completing worksheets.

2) Meet each parent individually online in advance for an introductory meeting using the same online platform. In addition to using the meeting to engage parent and explore their goals as you would do in a face to face introductory meeting (see your Parents Plus Manual), for an online group you need to

● help the parent get set up and comfortable online

● ensure there are no technical problems about access

● encourage both parents to attend where possible

● discuss how parents might create space when group is in progress (e.g how children might be occupied elsewhere in home, keeping screen private and not visible to others etc)

● go over online groundrules above

● check they have access to materials as needed

Seven tips to successful online groups

1) Insist on presence:

People can more easily drift off in an online meeting. Prevent this by encouraging everyone to have their camera on and use ‘gallery view’ that allows you to see everyone at once on the screen. Regularly talk to and include everyone in the group.

2) Use gesture:

To engage people online you have to use more exaggerated gesture and body language. Use ‘thumbs up’ and ‘signs of applause’ to show approval and physically show books and objects by holding them up to the camera. Pointing  to a physical flip chart or poster behind you can make a more memorable alternative to a virtual white board!

3) Increase interactivity:

It is the interactions with other people in a group that enhance learning and make the group therapeutic. Use small group breakouts online to increase these valuable interactions. Make sure to also use group rounds which give a turn for each person to contribute.

4) Vary delivery:

Many online groups get stuck in a presentation and Q&A format. Use the many other modes of delivery such as live demonstrations and roleplays,  interviews and participant presentations, as well as quizzes, polling and reflective exercises. These all work just as well online as face to face. We explore these techniques more in our training.

5) Use the chat window:

Online groups provide new channels of communication – use these to your advantage. Use the chat window as an alternate means for quieter people to communicate, as well as a means for reflective exercises. Ask people to share a main goal or a memorable learning point in the chat window as an alternative to a verbal group round. This can be a much quicker and more effective group exercise.

6) Create space for attendance:

In a face to face group you create the therapeutic or learning space in your agency. In an online group people need to create this space in their busy homes which may be full of other demands from their family. Contact people in advance to help them prepare, to overcome technological challenges and to create space in their homes so they can fully attend the group.

7) Nurture participants:

The tea break/ social part in a face to face group is often the best part. Continue to emphasise this online. As a gesture, post out to participants tea bags and biscuits for the breaks or arrange a pizza to be delivered to each person during the last session!  Such nurturing gestures can transform a group.

For more information and to access our full guidance document we have a special training on online working. that you can book here