The benefits of a Video Interaction Guidance workforce that reflects the ethnic, cultural and linguistic mix of the community
Video Interaction Guidance (VIG) is a strength based intervention to help improve communication and interaction between at least two people. Video is taken of the interaction and then this is edited to show particular moments of attunement which are then shared with the person seeking help. This ‘shared review’ of the film is a skilled conversation where micro-moments of interaction are analysed to see what is working well and this can be a catalyst for change.
In Tower Hamlets, VIG has been used in many settings, for example, to help improve the quality of contact between parents and children who have been placed in Local Authority care and to support assessments pre or during care proceedings; within the Education Psychology service including working with teachers and teaching assistants and their pupils; and within Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service, Disabled Children’s Outreach Service, Parental Engagement Team and Children’s Centres to support parent/child relationships.
Tower Hamlets is a diverse borough in East London, where 32% of the population at the 2011 census identified themselves as Bangladeshi and 31% White British; the other 37% being a combination of all different ethnicities with ‘White Other’ being the next biggest category (London Borough of Tower Hamlets 2013). Encouragingly, the workforce within the Local Authority reflects this ethnic mix with a lot of staff both living and working in the borough; approximately 55% of the Council employees are from a Black or Minority Ethnic background (Cooke 2016). Up until 2015 however, the staff training in VIG within the borough did not reflect this ethnic, cultural and linguistic mix.
That changed when a decision was made to train 12 staff from the Children’s Centres along with two in the Parental Engagement Team and two additional staff in the Disabled Children’s Outreach Service. Of this cohort, nine were of Bangladeshi heritage, three were White British, two were Black British or dual heritage, one was White South African and one White Australian. This was not by design – no conscious decision was made to recognise a previous gap and pro-actively train Bangladeshi workers, it just happened this way. A sociological or social policy perspective on this may highlight the multiple disadvantages that are often faced by people, especially women, from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds which may explain why more Bangladeshi staff were found in the lower paid Children’s Centre cohort – but that’s for another paper!
My experience of seeing how VIG is offered in the UK when English is not spoken by the family or person seeking help, is that an interpreter is used – that is certainly how I have undertaken my VIG work. With an intervention based so much on film, it may be easy to think that this would be fine, and indeed I am aware of lots of high quality VIG work that has taken place using interpreters. However, the purpose of this paper is to hear some different perspectives on the value that gets added when VIG is offered by people who share the same language, cultural or religious understanding as those they are offering VIG to; as well as share some learning that has happened along the journey!
Reflections from Ruhul Tapader, Early Intervention Worker (Family Support) in the Children’s Centre:
“I am an Asian British male of Bangladeshi heritage, and speak Bengali and Sylheti as well as English. I am so pleased to be able to offer VIG in Bengali and Sylheti because so many parenting programmes or parenting information is in English which means that some families miss out. However, I have found it isn’t just the ability to undertake VIG in a family’s first language that I can bring to my VIG work, but my shared cultural and religious background too. For example, in my experience a lot of the Bangladeshi families in Tower Hamlets have a different understanding of play than childcare professionals. It would not be uncommon within Bangladeshi families to think children play by themselves or with each other, but that there is no role for the parent to support a child’s development. I have been able to challenge that idea and help parents to see on film how beneficial it is for children when parents get involved in their child’s play.
Additionally, within Bangladeshi culture there can be different understandings of what causes difficulties for children, for example a belief in the “evil eye” or “jinns”, and this can lead to a belief that nothing can be done. Being a trained Family Support Worker and (trainee) VIG Guider gives me the confidence to challenge some of these ideas, but from a starting point of understanding where the beliefs are coming from.
Being a male Bangladeshi VIG Guider has been particularly helpful, because (like in a lot of cultures), there is often a tendency to view caring responsibilities as the mother’s role. I can encourage men to get involved with their children, and can speak with authority because I am from the same background. I understand that mothers may not want to be filmed or may feel they need permission from their husband. As a male, it is easier for me to talk with the husbands/fathers and when I work with them, they will usually encourage their wives to get involved. It would have been much harder for a female to engage some of the families I have undertaken VIG with.
I also bring an understanding from a religious perspective around filming, because I understand the teachings around modesty. However, I also understand that within Islam, there can be permission to film when it is necessary and beneficial, in the same way that seeing a Doctor would equally be permissible. I recognise the importance of offering reassurances that film will be deleted afterwards and will not be shared beyond the work being offered.
Sina Akter, Parent and Family Support Practitioner in the Parental Engagement Team has a similar story of success to tell. She writes:
“As we know, Video Interaction Guidance works for everyone. However, I have found that the intervention is great for non-English speaking immigrants because of the universal power of images. Although we have the option to deliver programmes in community languages, I still see that many parents find it hard to understand some systems and cultural aspects of this country. In such cases VIG is much more helpful.
One of my cases was a mother who was struggling with multiple problems with her teenagers who are subject to a Child Protection plan; one had been taken in to care. In particular, the mum was having a difficult time as she was anxious about the possibility of her youngest boy being taken to care. This 6 ½ year old needed more attention to his wellbeing within this household. Mum looks after the children full time and has lived in this country for a long time but has no UK education and only has primary level Bangladeshi education; she speaks Bengali.
In my introductory visit, mum looked unsure about what was going on but she was cooperative throughout the programme. The parent’s first thoughts around a helping question were, ‘how do I make my child listen to me?’ which needed some re-framing, and ‘how do I spend quality time with my child?’ So far I have done three complete cycles of filming. Through micro-analysing the clips during the shared reviews, the mum was able to realise the benefits of child led interaction and she was enabled to see where she was attuned to her child.
I have noticed an increased positive outlook in mum’s interactions with her son that helped build her confidence. She has spoken positively about the effectiveness of the VIG intervention. Now she values spending quality time with her son as she recognises the impact this has on their relationship, which ultimately has led to him being more responsive. By the end, I saw a happy parent-child relationship where mum often praises the child, allows him to take initiatives, listens to and helps him. It seems this interaction has helped to improve his self-esteem and happiness.
The mum underwent a parenting assessment by the Local Authority where she was able to adequately evidence good enough parenting capacity, including to the Court. She was successful and now her son lives with her. It is my view that it is the VIG intervention alongside other interventions that has helped her to achieve this success”.
Through supervising Bengali speaking staff in their VIG work, we have also had to reflect on some of the challenges of working in another language, as Rozina Aktar, an Early Intervention Worker (Family Support) in the Children’s Centres writes:
“Undertaking VIG with Bangladeshi families whether in Bengali or English has been an interesting but challenging experience at times. It has been an advantage to speak both languages, because there have been times when I am talking with Bangladeshi families in English and the words they use do not directly reflect what they mean. Because I speak both languages, I understand what the parent is communicating because I can see how the “mistranslation” has happened. If I only spoke English, then I may have taken what they said literally which could have led to misunderstandings.
However, some difficulties have emerged because there are lots of words in English that don’t translate easily into Bengali and vice versa. Although with my Bengali speaking clients I have managed to show families progress, it has sometimes been a difficult journey for clients to articulate themselves deeply. For example, the most common word to describe feelings in Bengali is the word ‘kushi’ which would be translated into English as happy, but is used more generally than that. I started to put a lot of thought into other possible words in Bengali to describe emotions and would try to offer these words to parents, as a possible way to explain how they or their child may be feeling; but more often than not, the parents would look very blank. At first I thought they were not taking much of an interest, but realised as I was doing VIG with more Bengali speaking families that there may be another explanation.
Although I was trying to find alternative words to describe feelings, these are not commonly used, and I began to realise that the families were not actually understanding these words in Bengali. I became aware that even when speaking in the same Bengali language that I need to be mindful about the parent’s level of understanding. This is especially the case for the families living in Tower Hamlets who have sometimes come from Bangladesh with only a primary level of education and so use quite basic language; using an interpreter would not have been helpful as it wasn’t the translation that was the issue! This has made it really difficult at times to tease out more subtle feelings and thoughts that the parent may have. However, I have learnt that by asking the parents in Bengali about their thoughts rather than feelings, this has led to much richer conversations. This is an area I am keen to explore and put more thought into as I continue to offer VIG to Bengali families”.
As the VIG supervisor of Ruhul and Rozina,it has been a really rewarding learning experience for me to be supervising Bangladeshi staff who are often undertaking their work in Bengali without the need for an interpreter. It has been particularly interesting to reflect with Rozina as she worked through the frustration of how to move beyond “kushi” as a way to describe feelings; and this has been really helpful learning that I have been able to share with non-Bengali speaking VIG Trainees in their work with Bangladeshi families.
I was interested to learn more about how Rozina’s reflections about language is supported by the work of linguistic anthropologists. In an interesting article by Benoid (2014) he shares how Hawaiians have 65 words for fishing nets and 108 for sweet potato! Hawaiians may therefore struggle to communicate which type of sweet potato they are referring to if trying to translate this into English! Other cultures have developed language to describe concepts that do not really exist in British culture – the word “mmbwe”, from the Venda language of South Africa, for example, refers to “a round pebble taken from a crocodile’s stomach and swallowed by a chief”; or “nakhur” the Persian word that describes a “camel that gives no milk until her nostrils are tickled”. People familiar with these languages may find it surprising that there is no direct translation into English! Interestingly, other concepts are more universally understood, yet do not necessarily have their own word in major languages – “wo-mba”, for example, from the Bakweri language spoken in Cameroon is a beautiful word to describe the smile on a child’s face whilst sleeping.
It is fascinating to consider how language develops contextually, and that there is a richness in all languages. Where that richness lies may be explained at least in part, by what is needed in the context it is developed. This is a good reminder that when undertaking VIG in a different language and needing to use an interpreter, there may not actually be the words to describe what we or those we’re working with want to say.
It has also been really helpful to hear Bangladeshi staff add more meaning to what they are seeing, perhaps recognising some additional significance in the interaction than I would. An obvious example is seen in the area of feeding. Bangladeshi families often like to feed their children using their hands, even when the child may be of school age. This would look strange and usually be frowned upon in the White British culture that I am from, but Bangladeshi staff can see this through a helpful contextual lens that starts with understanding that feeding in this way is viewed as a very nurturing part of care. They also recognise that making sure children are well fed is particularly key to families who have grown up in a country with significant poverty. Thus clips are looked at with more respect for what may be ‘better than usual’ moments than may happen without this level of understanding.
One other area of learning for me as a supervisor is more practical. When I undertake VIG with families using an interpreter, I am aware that the shared review may take longer. However, I realised I had not factored in that VIG supervisions often need to be a bit longer, if a VIG trainee is needing to translate what is being said in the film in order to help understanding. I realised that what was often happening initially was that we were spending most of the session just understanding what was going on verbally in the clip, and that there was less time and space left to reflect on what the VIG trainee and parent were doing, thinking and feeling in what we were seeing. I have had to allow longer for supervision sessions where the film is not in English, but I have also had to be a bit more intentional in not getting too bogged down in what was said before moving on to thoughts, feelings and new meanings. This may be something for other supervisors to factor in when setting up contracts and expectations about VIG supervision if shared reviews are not taking place in English.
In summary, I hope this article has provided food for thought in relation to what can be gained when VIG is offered by people that share certain aspects of identity with the community they are working with. Whilst the power of the visual image is undisputable, we know that it is the skilled conversation around this that can help to develop the new meanings that are being created. When this is facilitated by a VIG guider who understands both the first language and how this may look when translated in to English, the risk of misunderstandings are reduced and subtleties more easily received. When there is understanding of the religious and cultural context of a family, there is an even greater likelihood of VIG being offered in a way that the family feels respects and honours their beliefs which increases the potential to explore new meaning. There is also an opportunity to notice interaction that takes on a new significance when seen through a particular cultural lens, that could otherwise go unnoticed. These are all important components that can help with embodying the AVIGuk values and beliefs.
The expertise of the VIG workers sharing in this article have also helped recognise the subtlety of language that sometimes, quite literally, gets lost in translation; and that sometimes there are no words, or the words there are, are not fully understood. It is good to be reminded of the need to adapt our communication style accordingly, rather than assuming the difficulty is solely about poor translation.
I believe there is still lots to learn for those of us who are supervising VIG work that is undertaken in a different language to our own – how we find ways of allowing enough time to ensure there is both an accurate understanding of what has been said verbally, but also enough space to explore thoughts, feelings and new meanings. And for those who are involved in making decisions about who should be trained in VIG within an organisation, I believe this article is an encouragement to look at the demographics of those who we are working with and recognise the added value that can be gained from ensuring the workforce reflects this.
Cooke, Z. (2016) Non executive report of the General Purposes Committee: Workforce Diversity.
London Borough of Tower Hamlets (2013) Ethnicity in Tower Hamlets: Analysis of the 2011 Census. https://www.towerhamlets.gov.uk/Documents/Borough_statistics/Ward_profiles/Census-2011/RB-Census2011-Ethnicity-2013-01.pdf