How the Family Time Service got its name
Ruchelle works for Buckinghamshire’s Family Time Service, which used to be called the Contact Centres. Since March 2020, the service has gone through a big rebrand and uplift through a youth participation approach.
Ruchelle’s service is based in two buildings: one in High Wycombe, and one in Aylesbury. These buildings act as a meeting place for children and young people in care to meet up with their parents and other relatives. They are Council-owned buildings that have a reception area, several private rooms, and a garden for families to spend time in. During their time at the centres, Ruchelle and her colleagues make sure the children and young people are OK, and they strive to make the visits a positive and happy experience for everybody.
Ruchelle’s team are always thinking about improving the service for the families that use it, and they are very passionate about listening to children and young people to help make things better. In early 2020, they set up a feedback box and Ruchelle and her colleagues asked the children and young people for feedback on the service at the ends of their visits. Around that time, one theme in the feedback was very striking to Ruchelle:
Ruchelle sees this as the starting point for the rebrand. She could see that the buildings were looking grey and dirty, and she recognised that this didn’t show the young people how valued and important they were.
Then, in March 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic hit the UK, and the centres had to close their doors. The two buildings were empty, and the visits between children, young people and their relatives were moved online.
Ruchelle realised that this provided an opportunity to re-paint the centres and wrote a business case to get some money to do so. Senior managers approved the business case, motivated in part by the feedback from young people.
By the time the children, young people and families returned to the centres in July 2020, everybody was so excited, both to see each other face-to-face again, and to see how bright and fresh the centres looked.
The response to the physical improvement gave the team a huge boost to continue with a youth participation approach to improving the service.
Then, Ruchelle and her colleagues were introduced to a video called Language That Cares. This video was created by Buckinghamshire’s We Do Care forum, which brings young people with care experience together to help make things better for young people in care. The video talks about the language that professionals use and the effect this has on young people.
Ruchelle and her colleagues, in what was then known as the Contact Centre, were struck by the young people in the video saying the following:
The team discussed this important message and agreed it made sense. For example, lots of children and young people’s parents separate, and when they go to visit the parent they don’t usually live with, they wouldn’t call it “contact”.
The team started to collect feedback on the name for the service. They collected 5 pages of feedback and could see the word “family” emerging as a consistent theme:
The team decided to call themselves the Family Time Service from then on. They co-produced an image to go with their new brand, with their new name on the top and the strapline “Inspired by Children” below, to reflect the team’s commitment to listening to young people.
And in Ruchelle’s words, “We just continued from there!”
Next, the team asked young people to help them decide on new names for the rooms, to replace the boring colour names (the blue room, the green room, and the red room). The young people supplied heaps of potential names, and the team settled on the Aquarium Room, the Rainforest Jungle Room, and the Rainbow Room.
The team then invited local art students to help bring the new names to life. One local artist, Mayanne Johnson, was so inspired by the service’s journey that she offered to create the murals voluntarily . She has given the High Wycombe centre a whole new feel, which the children, young people and families that use the centre love. Maryanne’s Instagram handle is @mj_interiorandspecial.
The Aquarium Room
The Rainforest Jungle Room
The Rainbow Room
As of September 2022, dates are being set for Maryanne to create murals at the Aylesbury centre.
But the journey didn’t stop there! The team had the gardens re-done, with lots of fun activities added.
Swings in the garden
Spongey garden floor with footsteps
Noughts and crosses game in the garden
The team have also added a new high-quality dining table and chairs set to each room, so that parents can bring a home-cooked meal with them to the centre, which families can enjoy together.
They have also created a booklet that can be given to young people ahead of their first visit to the centres to give them an idea of what the centre looks like before they come.
“We’ve produced this booklet because we know that when children come to the centre, they don’t know what to expect, and we know social workers are busy and can’t explain everything. What we find now is, if they use the booklet, when they come here, some children say they want to be in, for example, the rainbow room! The booklet and the rooms re-focus them; they take them away from the anxieties of coming to a new centre and meeting strangers .” – Ruchelle
The feedback from the families using the centre on all of the changes has been overwhelmingly positive.
How did we listen, act and respond?
The Family Time Service listened predominantly by asking children and young people for feedback at the end of their visits. The staff that get to know the children and young people during the visits were encouraged to have conversations with them to gather their feedback, because the team found that asking children and young people to fill in forms and tick boxes is not a very effective way of gathering their views. The team wrote down the feedback and collated the different messages into a word document so that they could see the themes and trends.
The team acted in the following ways:
• Re-painting the centres to make them look brighter and cleaner
• Re-naming the service from the Contact Centre to the Family Time Service
• Creating a new image that reflects their participation ethos, “Inspired by Children”.
• Re-naming the rooms in the buildings from colour names to “Aquarium”, “Rainforest Jungle”, and “Rainbow” rooms
• Adding murals to the rooms that reflect the new names
• Upgrading the gardens, and adding new dining tables and chairs to the rooms
• Creating a booklet that introduces young people to the buildings before they come
The young people that took part in this participation project are ongoing users of the service, so they got to see the transformation in real time. Ruchelle even recalls a father telling her that his son wants to come back to the Family Time centre, even though it’s no longer needed because his son lives with him now!
The team continue to look for opportunities to improve their service for the children, young people and families that need it. They are hugely proud of the transformation and how happy the families they work with are to come to the centres.
“Once you start having these conversations with children, you realise they have a lot to say”