The Fragile Childhood activities started in 1986 by A-Clinic Foundation have aimed at strengthening the ability of professionals working with children to identify, support and help children suffering from their parents’ substance misuse. The development of the Fragile Childhood communications network, composed of professionals working with children, forms an important part of the activities.
Professionals working with children do not often enough identify parents’ excessive use of substances as the reason behind a child’s problems. Identifying the substance misuse, however, is the starting point for enabling a child to receive the support services he or she needs.
The Fragile Childhood activities have in many ways aimed at increasing professionals' sensitivity to identifying children's problems and at providing different means for helping children. Within the scope of the programme, A-Clinic Foundation has carried out several projects and communications campaigns, translated and published literature and other material, created a website for professionals and children and their close persons, and trained about 15,000 professionals working with children. One way of equipping professionals has been to develop their level of knowledge through the Fragile Childhood network.
The core idea underlying the network activities is to
- collect the contact details of professionals employed in different tasks and organisations and working with children,
- enhance their expertise by passing on new information and
- maintain their sensitivity to identifying children suffering from their parents’ substance misuse problems.
Communications also flow in the opposite direction, as information to support decision-making and activities can be gathered from the network using various questionnaires.
The objective of the Fragile Childhood activities is to raise awareness of the way children experience things and to enhance the focus on children in various services. This objective is realised in all communications with the Fragile Childhood network.
Description of the Practice
The setting up of the Fragile Childhood network was started already in the 1990s. Back then contact details were gathered using paper forms, which were filed. In 2004 an electronic system was adopted, and professionals were requested to provide only their e-mail address.
Later the system was developed to enable the collecting of more detailed information about professionals, such as their profession, their place of activity, work experience, specialty and more detailed contact information. These enable the provision of better targeted communications to professionals. So far, however, this possibility has not been utilised, as all professional groups have been contacted with the same messages.
The network can be joined by filling in a simple online form. The user enters his or her e-mail address on the form and the system saves it to its database. Unsubscribing from the list can be done using the same form.
The system’s administrator can monitor e-mail addresses saved in the database and add and remove them if necessary. He or she can also send e-mails to the members. A-Clinic Foundation’s system enables members to send messages with the graphic appearance of the Fragile Childhood programme.
Three or four newsletters are sent to the network’s members annually. In addition, they can be sent information about special events or recent publications. The objective is to develop the knowledge level of professionals, provide new tools for their work and maintain their sensitivity to identifying children’s problems.
Communications also flow in the opposite direction. The knowledge levels of professionals have been surveyed through online questionnaires and their opinions have been sought when developing material that is to be produced. Network members have also been informed of job vacancies and recruited as test groups and experts in projects and work groups. The network’s responsiveness to various surveys has been quite good.
The network has been advertised in many ways: professionals’ e-mail addresses have been collected on paper at training events, trade fairs and other events and later transferred to the database. The online registration form which can be used to join the network has also been available on the homepage of the Fragile Childhood website (www.lasinenlapsuus.fi). Professionals have also been encouraged to join the network in various situations.
The system has employed two different technological solutions. The earlier one is based on the PHP+MySQL technology and can be copied to any system that has a server environment supporting these technologies. The newer solution is integrated into A-Clinic Foundation’s publication system and can be used by the members of the ENCARE network. Similar lists can also be created using free applications, such as the Yahoo! Groups website at http://groups.yahoo.com/.
Surveys have been carried out using software created by A-Clinic Foundation and ready software available from other sources. Ready software is available free of charge (e.g. http://www.askpeople.co.uk/) and for a fee (e.g. www.surveygizmo.com). Yahoo! Groups includes a simple poll function.
The Fragile Childhood network is administrated by one person as part of his or her job. The system’s administration does not require additional resources after the system has been installed. Working time is spent only on sending messages and removing outdated e-mail addresses.
The adoption of the system requires competence in the HTML and PHP programming languages and the MySQL database. The adoption of the Yahoo! Groups application does not require special expertise.
Communication skills are needed for maintaining contact with the network. The competence demanded to carry out surveys depends on the way a survey is conducted. With easier applications, basic internet skills are sufficient, whereas more demanding ones require programming know-how.
The members of the Fragile Childhood network receive 3–4 newsletters and several individual messages annually. Moreover, the network has been used to conduct surveys about once a year and to recruit a few professionals for various work groups. At the time of writing, the network had over 800 professionals as members.
Other necessary elements
The network, which relies on a electronic mailing list, requires a certain type of technological environment (see above) and an active administrator who is responsible for the network’s communications.
The number of members in the network is growing steadily. Through the network, professionals receive information about new publications, events concerning children, changes in legislation etc.
The effectiveness of the work undertaken with the network has not been evaluated. In surveys of professionals taking part in events asking how they were informed of the events, the electronic mailing list has clearly proven the most effective marketing tool.
The collection of people’s e-mail addresses must comply with laws governing the keeping of a register. Members must be able to join and leave the list freely, and an up-to-date register description must be kept of the register.
In addition, those joining the list must be asked for permission to send them messages. Usually the provision of an e-mail address also serves as permission if the text describing the list states that messages will be sent to the address.
Members’ e-mail addresses must not be disclosed to third parties.
Members of the network can be encouraged to participate in surveys by, for example, allowing participants to enter into a prize draw for literature related to the subject. Publishers will often willingly provide prize books free of charge, if it is agreed that the book will be mentioned in connection with the prize draw and, possibly, also on the Fragile Childhood website.
Advertisements of events in printed media have been found to stimulate registration with the network, if the registration form is clearly visible. This way, people interested in the matter can be more easily informed of events etc. in the future.
Description of the Organisation
A-Clinic Foundation is the leading substance abuse service provider in Finland, with 19 outpatient and inpatient service units, and activities in the areas of prevention, training, research and information provision. The Foundation employs approximately 800 staff and has an annual turnover of EUR 38 million. A-Clinic Foundation is a non-profit, non-governmental organisation.
Ms. Minna Ilva
minna.ilva [at] a-klinikka.fi