In January 2010 a group of 5 students, 1 alum and one professor traveled to London, England for a study visit to the Marlborough Family Services, mental health agency. The thrust of the trip was to learn about the Marlborough’s theoretical approach and the logistical workings of their outreach programs in local schools. In particular, their work with families who have a child who had been identified as at risk for academic and/or behavioral issues. Instead of outsourcing mental health services that may be resisted by families and children alike, the idea is to intervene in a non-stigmatizing manner by holding family group meetings in the school. The group format lends itself to forming a community of students and parents who may be struggling with similar issues thereby creating a supportive community of peers. Goals for the groups are to utilize a systemic, group orientation to provide parenting education, psycho-education, problem solving skills, prevent escalation of behavioral and education problems, minimize suspensions; essentially to seize the opportunity of “nipping issues in the bud”.
The school based meeting are run by systemically trained therapists who work in collaboration with a school partner, usually a teacher, who champions the program to school administrators and teaching colleagues. The school partner works as a point person between the school and the agency. Once teachers understand the goal of the family groups they are encouraged to refer students and their families to the program. The in-school meetings are run similarly to the way the Marlborough’s on-site school for children aged 5 – 17 runs. Parents spend some time working with their child on some academic work and in the process obtain an understanding of the type of work being asked of their student and challenges the child faces in doing the work. Then the whole group gets together to discuss challenges they face as well as goals and strategies for obtaining these goals. The role of the therapist and the school partner is to model, guide and enhance communication, set clear expectations and parent/child collaboration.The Marlborough Model emphasizes the need to view childrens’ needs in the context of the environments at home and at school, not simply in relation to the children themselves.
The Marlborough Family Services agency is funded by the British government and is often cited for their successes in working with difficult populations. Their model is deeply systemic and collaborative. They utilize family groups in working with families entrenched in the social services system who struggle with multiple problems such a poverty, dual diagnosis, incarceration, custody disputes, domestic violence, to name a few. We were all struck by the skills and dedication of the Marlborough staff that we met, Eia Asen, Brenda McHugh, Neil Dawson, Serena Potter and Anthony Scrafton. Clinicians are supported in utilizing creative techniques to heighten awareness of and interrupt unproductive patterns of interaction and ways to manage cultural gaps in understanding. Clinicians interventions include video taping, home visits, ice breaking/team building exercises, group play, group meetings in which goal setting and strategies for success are collaboratively formulated and written on easels. Reflection is a part of all exercises. Goals are called ‘targets’ and target attainment is rated by teachers on a daily basis as a measure of progress and a means by which teachers communicate their assessment of the students work and effort each day. Target reports are sent home to parents each day and are reviewed at family meetings which take place once a week, every two weeks or once a month, depending on the school group.
Back Row: Marie Fennell, Eia Asen (Director of Marlborough Family Services), Ingeborg Haug (Professor, Fairfield University MFT Program), Carol Passmore. Front Row: Laura Fishman, Susan Valentino-Hersey, Kerry Bordak, Sarah Arsenault
All in all, the learning at the Marlborough Family Services was exciting and inspiring. I speak for myself, but I think the group would be unanimous in recommending this trip to anyone interested in working in schools. The Marlborough Model has been developed over the the course of 30 years and is based on the success of the multi-family group model that proceeded it. There is hope of making the trip an annual event and in establishing a collaborative partnership between the Fairfield University MFT program and the Marlborough Institute. If you get the opportunity, go!!