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Ohana is a prime example of a project that has used creativity to solve and address real challenges within the social work sector.  We have partnered with and worked alongside Hertfordshire County Council for the past six years and, as a charity dedicated to making life better for children who need a social worker, it’s always so heartening to see initiatives like Ohana stemming from social work insight and practice.

The impact of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic meant that many children and families were left unable to see friends and loved ones for long periods of time. This left lots of people feeling isolated and disconnected, but was exceptionally challenging for care experienced and first-time parents who had to navigate parenthood without the presence of family members or friends. Seeing how hard this was and the impact it was having, members of staff from Hertfordshire County Council, alongside the Family Rights Group, came together to develop an initiative that focused on supporting care experienced parents to build new and meaningful relationships.

Meaning of the name ‘Ohana’

Social work can often be seen as a profession that makes decisions for children and families, without their involvement. It was so important for Hertfordshire County Council to demonstrate the importance of working with care experienced parents and learn from them the best way to support them. This is at the core of Ohana -everything about it is parent-led. Even the name was chosen by a parent -it comes from one of their childhood favourite films Lilo & Stich. In the film, Ohana’ means ‘family’, and ‘family means nobody is left behind or forgotten’.

Ohana champions

Ohana prioritises speaking to parents and trying to understand the challenges they are facing and the support they need to make the positive changes they want. It aims to combat challenges they may face in relation to isolation, accessing services, and building new relationships. For example, to help combat the rising cost of living on families, Ohana has built close relationships with local food banks, with the help of their Ohana Champions (volunteers). We have also developed a recycling service where families can donate and accept free items, such as clothes and furniture. 

Bringing change to social work practice

Ohana also encourages parents to write and share their experiences. This helps parents to reflect on their journey, consider the positive and negative impacts of their social work interventions and experiences, and to gain a better understanding of the social work process and roles people played. It also ensures that parents feel listened to and empowered to help make the positive changes that they want to see within social work practice.

Ohana is such a great example of how social workers can respond to the needs of those they work with and support using their creativity, knowledge and insight. They might be hard to get off the ground initially, but initiatives like this make a real difference to communities, parents and children in the short and long term. At Frontline, we see innovative ideas like this from social workers a lot, but not always the time or knowledge on how to bring them to life. Supporting social workers to do that is something we are really passionate about, so if you have an idea like Ohana or see a need for something to change and have an idea on how to change it, let us know.

If you would like to find out more about Ohana in Hertfordshire County Council you can visit their website.