Implementing Meitheal: A new joined up way of working with families in East Wicklow
Wicklow CYPSC are rolling out an interagency approach to planning family support services in East Wicklow called Meitheal. It is the national practice model for assessing the strengths and needs of children and their families developed by Tusla, Ireland’s Child and Family Agency. The word “Meitheal” is an old Irish word describing the whole community coming together to help each other with the harvest. A Meitheal intervention is a joined-up way of working that brings together everyone who works with families around a table to design family and child-centred care plans. This means that parents and, where appropriate, children are involved in the planning, to ensure care plans are tailored for each individual family’s strengths and needs.
When Tusla - Child and Family Agency launched Meitheal, Wicklow CYPSC recognised that it would be a good fit for the east part of the county where strong, informal working relationships between services already existed. Now, through application of Meitheal, these relationships are being formally recognised as being crucial to the delivery of the best possible supports for families in Wicklow.
"Teachers had more of an understanding of the presenting problem from attending the meeting and this resulted in appropriate supports being given to the child in school" - Family Support Worker
Wicklow CYPSC has become a champion for using Meitheal. The Prevention Partnership and Family Support Steering Committee is a subgroup of Wicklow CYPSC and are leading on the implementation of Meitheal in Wicklow. They are supporting child, youth and family services in Wicklow to implement this new approach. They are doing this in a number of different ways including:
New child and family support networks have been established in Wicklow towns such as Bray and Greystones along with existing networks in Wicklow Town and Arklow. These have become four hubs supporting services to work together across East Wicklow. Specialised training is being provided to professionals who work in family support services, such as designing child-centred care plans; or working with parents experiencing domestic violence.
"The interagency approach was useful and allowed for appropriate sharing in a professional setting" - School Principal
Professionals who work with families and children across a range of disciplines and professions, such as family resource centres and schools, are now connected to work and plan supports for families together.
Services have reported to Wicklow CYPSC that working in an interagency way to plan family care is allowing them to identify and address gaps in service provision. Examples of these gaps include an absence of services in rural areas and waiting lists for therapeutic and mental health services. Many professionals working with families have developed an improved understanding of each other’s work, resulting in better practice, better referrals and perceived better experiences for families availing of family support.
This new way of working is also having an impact on the lives of families and children. Because parents are directly involved in designing care plans, nothing is done without their consent. Parents are receiving family supports and have a better understanding of how services are planned and have found this experience empowering. This is because they do not need to tell their story over and over again to individual services, and have reported reduced stress as a result of this simple measure.
Families and services partnering together has meant that local schools have a greater awareness of a child’s needs and can tailor support accordingly. This has resulted in improved school attendance for some children who have taken part in the Meitheal process.
Given its success with implementing Meitheal, the Wicklow CYPSC team were invited to meet with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to present on the successful implementation of Meitheal in Wicklow, and to provide feedback to Tusla Child and Family Agency on how to make Meitheal more user-friendly. As a result, the assessment forms that parents need to fill in were made easier to use and are already making a difference for services in Wicklow, with more parents engaging with the Meitheal process.
Looking ahead, Wicklow CYPSC is planning to scale up implementation of Meitheal into West Wicklow, so that all families in the whole county will have access to joined-up family support.
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