BASED IN BRIGHTON AND COVERING EAST AND WEST SUSSEX
Contact Chiara Santin
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I am committed to working with children, particularly those who have experienced trauma, early deprivation or disadvantage, to enable them to have the best possible chances in life.
Over the years I have gained extensive professional experience of working with children, young people, their parents, extended families, foster carers and adoptive families. I have worked for ten years in Children’s Services as a practitioner whilst training as a family therapist and supervisor.
I have always had an interest in working with children, young people and their families. I worked in the community in Italy in a voluntary capacity, organising playgroups, summer play schemes and summer camps and as a youth group leader for fifteen years. I also worked as an accountant in private companies and public services for eight years.
When I moved to the UK in 1998, I started my career change by attaining a first class degree in Social Science and Psychology which I completed in 2002. In 2003 I started my four-year family therapy clinical training. I completed this in July 2008 by attaining an MSc in Systemic and Family Psychotherapy. During my systemic training I have had a weekly placement in CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service), either as part of a team or as a trainee under supervision. I completed a systemic supervision course at the Tavistock Portman Trust in July 2012. I am registered with the relevant professional body, the UKCP (United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy), as a systemic psychotherapist. I have been a fully qualified and registered systemic supervisor since 2012.
From 2002 to 2012, I worked in Children’s Services and I was last employed as a SWIFT Practitioner in a specialist family services team i.e. statutory services for high-risk families with a range of presenting problems, often a combination of poor mental health, neglect, physical, emotional, sexual abuse, domestic abuse, substance misuse, learning disability, either on a Child Protection Plan or during Care Proceedings.
I started my career with Children’s Services in the Looked After Children team. Working with children from the age of two years, I worked with birth families, particularly to promote contact, and with foster carers to best meet children’s complex emotional and behavioural needs and prevent placement breakdowns.
I then worked in a family centre (Children’s Services), offering therapeutic support to children and parents as well as undertaking Specialist Parenting Assessments, Sexual Risk Assessments and Ability to Protect Assessments. I undertook Complex Parenting Assessments for Court and Child Protection purposes to make recommendations about long-term care plans for children to either return to their parents’ care with a package of support or adopted or fostered. I offered short-term post-assessment work to promote parental management skills, protective parenting and protective behaviours (for children) e.g. in cases of sexual risk or domestic abuse or promoted rehabilitation at home when children were returning from being in care. Given my qualifications and expertise, I had a leading role in providing intensive tailor-made therapeutic interventions to help families and support them to facilitate and implement positive changes in their lives.
In 2011 I developed a Family Therapy service within a Children’s Services department, offering training and supervising a team of multi-disciplinary practitioners to provide short-term therapeutic interventions to families where potential for change was identified. I also designed and led a ten-week programme of group work on self-esteem for mothers using a psycho-educational, social learning and systemic approach for 4 years. I left this post in December 2012. In a private capacity I was appointed by the Local Authority and by the Court to undertake therapeutic assessments of parenting capacity and capacity to change with parents or family members, in respect of children during care proceedings, and provided family therapy sessions within the context of kinship care assessments, in order to explore family relationships and negotiate complex care arrangements.
Since 2012 I have been providing post adoption support services to adoptive familes as an independent systemic and family psychotherapist as commisoned by East Sussex County Council and Brighton and Hove County Council. I also offer local systemic workshops, personal and professional development groups, individual supervision and agency consultation for children's homes.
I am a visiting lecturer at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust providing teaching and training for the foundation course in systemic practice in Brighton. I was a tutor and teacher at the Institute of Family Therapy in London, leading adult group learning for the Graduate Certificate in Systemic Practice, for 4 years from 2009 to 2013 and one year for the Tavistock in London for a social care agency.
PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL SKILLS, KNOWLEDGE AND INTERESTS
My dual expertise in social care and systemic psychotherapy over ten years has equipped me with skills in working with complex and multiple issues affecting children and carers across the life cycle and from a variety of social, cultural and economic backgrounds. I have developed excellent skills in providing tailor-made therapeutic interventions in the face of high levels of adversity, emotional and psychological distress, which is often compounded by trauma, poor and disrupted family backgrounds including neglect, physical, emotional, and sexual abuse.
I am passionate about systemic thinking and family therapy, which promotes a relational approach in addressing personal and family difficulties. This approach focuses on the importance of family relationships as a source of support and growth as well as a burden and a concern. According to a systemic approach, children’s behaviour is to be seen within the context of early years experiences and current family interactions, and can be usefully addressed by promoting positive, trusting and emotionally supportive relationships and attachments.
I am also passionate about using art and nature as therapeutic tools. I have been developing theraputic interventions in nature to offer famlies a safe and therapeutic environment to promote positive family relationships and networking with other families using art making and nature based activities.
In the last ten years, in my various professional roles, I have developed a range of skills as follows:
Working with children and families
I have substantive knowledge of child and family development processes and skills in assessing and supporting children and carers across the life cycle, more specifically addressing behavioural and emotional difficulties, including bullying, sexualised behaviour, anger and aggressive/disruptive behaviour, ADHD, peer relationships, eating difficulties and home difficulties impacting on the child’s emotional well-being.
I am specifically interested in working therapeutically with children using multiple creative languages e.g. play, drawing, art and craft, story-making, toy animals, the doll’s house, movement, role plays, interviewing, guessing games, etc., in order to create a safe space for children to be able to express their own feelings, thoughts and wishes. I use a flexible approach which is tailor-made to the needs of a particular child, by trying to identify and respond to children’s preferred way of expressing themselves.
In my work with children I find it useful to combine a systemic, narrative approach informed by an attachment perspective, to enhance educational attainment, self-confidence and resilience. In my work with adoptive families, I undertake life story work with both child and parents to meet the child’s need for information and to revisit memories about their past in a safe context, help them to make sense of the reasons for being adopted and promote positive identity development and positive peer and family relationships.
I have developed specific skills to address complex presenting issues, identify potential for change and the most appropriate and effective interventions to support children and carers at times of stress and distress, promote more positive relationships, family attachments and family resilience. Sometimes it is more appropriate to work with parents or the whole family or different combinations e.g. carer, child, siblings.
I have developed systemic skills in observing family patterns and managing intense and distressing emotions expressed in sessions by children and adults e.g using containment, diffusing highly volatile interactional patterns, problem-solving in the case of unexpected situations, or crisis management to promote and maintain safety.
Service development and project management skills, multi-disciplinary working and consultation skills.
I led the Family Therapy Service within Social Services for 18 months to offer therapeutic support to high-risk and multiple-issue families with Child Protection concerns. This included regular liaising and sharing information with referrers i.e. social workers as well as case discussions and consultation to identify the most appropriate forms of interventions to achieve change. I have therefore developed skills in consultation and project management, evaluation and monitoring of the service being provided.
I am a great believer in the effectiveness of multi-agency working and in the richness and usefulness of different professional expertise and skills, particularly when working with multiple and complex issues. My systemic training has equipped me with consultation skills which can be useful in working with professionals on complex cases by taking an observer position, mapping out the influence of different systems and trying to understand how different work cultures or changes in organisations can influence clients and workers.
Assessment skills including analysis of risk, engagement skills and observation skills.
I have extensive working knowledge about child development, particularly conduct problems and emotional difficulties, parental mental health, substance misuse, domestic abuse, family violence, and up-to-date knowledge about child protection policies and regulations.
I have developed excellent assessment skills in order to assess risk, parenting capacity, areas of strength, as well as making recommendations for tailor-made interventions and support in specific areas of parenting, to promote change and strengthen family resilience. This includes engagement skills, given that parents are sometimes resistant to work with professionals, through trust-building and identification of barriers to communication and positive working relationships. I have also developed good observations skills, which are used to assess parent/carer and children interactions, give and receive feedback on parenting skills and design the most effective interventions.
I have developed a number of tools for parenting assessments and intervention work which are based on various systemic ideas, as well as mentalisation and Cognitive Behaviour Techniques (CBT). For example, the family as a secure base, parenting scripts, attachment strategies, scaling, emotional systems, the caring circle, relational time-line, the self-esteem cycle. When undertaking teaching of parental behaviour management I focus on positive boundaries and discipline, empathy and emotional responsiveness, and self-esteem work, particularly assertiveness.
Teaching and training skills
For 4 years I worked as a lecturer and tutor at the Institute of Family Therapy and Birkbeck College London, teaching and running tutorial groups for the Graduate Certificate in Systemic Practice. In 2012 I have been a visiting lecturer for the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust, London teaching on the foundation course of systemic practice on agency based training, especially social care agencies. I am currently a visiting lecturer for the Tavistock teaching on the Foundation Course in Brighton. My teaching experience can be useful in contributing to promote and disseminate systemic knowledge and skills amongst adoptive families, staff and colleagues in different disciplines.
I have provided local Personal and Professional Development groups to offer professionals of various backgrounds e.g. social workers, therapists, psychologists, a reflective space to think about their practice and professional identity.
I have developed full day workshops on clinical themes such as hope and hopelessness, family violence for the Association of Family Therapy in Jersey. I have presented to several national and european conferences including the National NVR (Non Violent Resistance) conference, the South East Post Adoption Network, COST action on Changes in social services in Europe and the national and European Association of Family Therapy conferences.
Group work skills
I love group work and believe in its efficacy. I have fifteen years of experience of group work, leading youth groups, being the facilitator of group discussions and organising residential experiences for young people. These have given me an awareness of group dynamics and increased my sensitivity to issues of personal identity, power and inclusion, dominant and marginalised voices and the power of social learning to affect positive change.
In my social care setting I designed a programme for mothers who experienced low self-esteem, were isolated and marginalised and whose children of varying ages were in need or with a child protection plan. The self-esteem groups proved to be very effective in promoting social skills, positive change and confidence in achieving goals.
I have also designed a programme for adoptive parents who have difficulty in emotional self-regulation. This aims to help parents to name and recognise their own emotions and in turn, by being emotionally in tune with their children who share their struggle in emotional self-regulation.