From the mouth of babes

All families have a type of spoken shorthand for addressing each other. These pet names, nicknames, ways that only your family has of saying hello and goodbye become finely honed over years of use till they become as much a part of the family dynamics as the members themselves.

In our house you know who’s on the other end when someone takes a phone call, just by how they greet them. I had never particularly noticed this until my brother, who is still pretty new to our family dynamics, pointed this out to me recently. Apparently I habitually greet phone calls from my daughter with the words “Hiya babe” which actually shouldn’t come as a great surprise as this is also the phrase I use when sending her a text, an email or a letter.

I said it to her yesterday when I took her call midday. I told her about writing the blog (see but before I told her about this, I gave her another piece of news.

The news was that I’d received an email from Julie Kerry at NHS England to let me know that the group initiative I’ve been working on this year, “Making Families Count “, has been chosen as a finalist for a national award, the Kate Granger Compassionate Care Awards. For 2015 there were 98 nominees and we are now one of only 5 who have made it through to the final for the “team” category. The overall winners will be announced and the awards presented at the Health and Innovation Expo in Manchester on 3 September.

I had no idea that such awards existed. I’ve been vaguely aware of awards as I seem to remember some talk on Twitter about Southern Health awarding themselves something last year (presumably it was for “Trust who spend the most time and money fighting families in court”) but otherwise this is about as alien a world to me as every other alien world I’ve encountered since I first got on board the justice train. Though one of the things I do know about is competitions.

There are a lot of competitions in the world of dance and I’ve been to a lot of them. As a dancer, as the mum of a dancer and more recently as a dance teacher. In fact I didn’t get Julie’s email till late because I was at a dance competition which a group of my youngsters that day.

So I already know that you can be outstanding, brilliant and simply great – and still not win. It’s just the way things are. So if “the winning doesn’t matter, it’s the taking part that counts”, why does it matter that “Making Families Count” have even been nominated and have got through to the final? Simply this; it raises the profile of our initiative and helps to secure funding going forward.   So our aims and objectives of getting families better support when a member of their family dies in NHS care – of making sure that families are listened to and placed at the centre of investigations into death in care, become one giant stride closer to reality.

In order to make the idea of “Making Families Count” an ongoing part of the NHS structure we need money and we need more and more people at the top to back us. I’m sure many of you reading this can imagine how immensely different it would have been for you if you had been well supported from the moment your own journey began. If you had been treated with respect, dignity and honesty all the way. If you had seen first-hand absolute care, transparency, real concern and a desire for justice that matched your own. Well…….right now to me (and probably to you too) that almost seems like believing in fairies at the bottom of the garden, but that’s what we’re trying to achieve

. So even if we don’t win, we’re planning to use this competition as a springboard to help with funding and so helping us to get closer to our goals. So it matters a lot. In fact it’s huge.

My daughter was thrilled and excited when I gave her the news. She thought this was a BIG stepping stone towards making everything happen. She was absolutely delighted for me and, practical as ever, told me I needed to find out if we had to attend the awards ceremony and if it was black tie/long dress, as if it was, I didn’t have one and we’d still have time to get something good.

On the back of this I told her about my “Guilt and Acronyms” blog. Then she said something that just knocked me back on my heels and I just want to share it with you.

She said that I need to take what I have learned from my “Guilt and Acronyms” chat with her and incorporate it into my “Making Families Count” world too. I need to remember that it’s just so very easy to talk using jargon, acronyms and just plain words that are commonplace in your world. To use those phrases which people who work with you or share your interests use with each other every single day, till they become a short-hand way of getting the point across quickly, rather like those well used family greetings.

But if you use those same words and phrases when you are supporting bereaved families they only serve to create a wall between the family and you. If you talk using acronyms and jargon the family feel left out before you’ve even began. If you want to make a family feel supported and cared for, if you want them to feel that they are at the front and centre of the investigation, if you want them to feel healed and empowered then do not use language with them which is part of your world, but not part of theirs. It’s ever so easy to forget this.

The family you are speaking to are already hurt, confused, bewildered and they’ve already just entered into a situation which has crushed them. It’s so important that everything you say helps them. You are there to be a force for good and that means making sure that not only do they understand everything you say to them, but they feel as if nothing matters more to you than them and their situation.

My daughter reminded me of that terrible day at the hospital. That terrible room. The things that were said to us and the things that were written to us later. We understood almost nothing. It was as if everyone had stopped speaking English as we knew it.

If we win the award, or even if we don’t, we may now get sufficient funding to ensure that when it happens to the next family, someone from “Making Families Count” sits with them, supports and helps them using truthful, plain and honest words that help them, even if it’s just a little. For me that would be a lot.


3 thoughts on “From the mouth of babes

  1. So important – the words and language we use includes people or shuts them out. Good luck with all your efforts. May the force be with you!
    (PS in one school where I worked, some pupils with only English actually invented a secret language of their own just so that they could exclude people, in the way they believed other language groups excluded them!)

  2. I’d just like to clarify that the “Making Families Count” is an initiative set up by Julie Kerry (NHS England) and Julian Hendy ( I was brought into the group by the wonderful Jan Sunman from the small Oxfordshire charity Oxfsn ( and initially it was just so that I could add in our own story. After speaking at some of the seminars I was asked to join the “Making Families Count” steering group. I’m still helping to steer the boat, along with Julie, Jan, Julian (the 3 Js), Frank Mulland and Tricia Bernal (, Len Hodkin (, Stephen Habgood (, Karen Lascelles (NHS Health) and Barbara Venner, another inspirational woman who has survived the tragic death of her brother. So a very disparate group – but all wanting to create something good together. I’m still not sure why they have me there, maybe I’m just decorative. I don’t know a fraction of what these people know but I want to learn and although I can only write and speak from personal experience, I write and speak from the heart and maybe that’s enough for now.

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