Published: 17 Nov 2021  |  Category: Integration  |  Stage: We have welcomed a family

Preparing for uncomfortable conversations

A guide to help your group navigate awkward conversations

When the resettled family you support arrives there are some key conversations you’ll need to have, and some topics will arise that may feel a little awkward. Uncomfortable conversations will happen, but they don’t have to be embarrassing or catch you off guard. Be confident that it’s ok to have them as the family’s wellbeing and integration will depend on it.

Keep in mind that the family you will be supporting need to know lots of information about the opportunities and services available to them as they build a life in the UK so they can make informed choices. As a Group, you shouldn’t be advocating for a specific way for the family members to live their lives or judging them for their life-choices, rather, give them information in a neutral and open way. 

This resource provides an overview on how to approach topics that Groups have found to be uncomfortable and point you toward resources that will help you prepare for these conversations.

Preparing yourself to have an uncomfortable conversation

Sometimes, the worst part of having a conversation you find uncomfortable is thinking about it beforehand, but ensuring you are prepared in advance can help to smooth the conversation.

  • Take time to prepare what you will say – what are the key points you need to be clear about?
  • Make sure you are in an appropriate space to say what you need to; singling out a volunteer who has not followed your code of conduct in front of a group will cause embarrassment to them.
  • Be clear and concise in what you need to say. Don’t preface what you want to say with an apology; people respond well to you being direct.
  • Recognise if you are not the appropriate person to have the conversation. There may be a reason you are not comfortable discussing, for example, the physical punishment of children. If this is the case, ask someone in your Group to take the lead.
  • If it feels like a conversation you are having is getting out of your control or escalating a fraught conversation, stop and revisit at a later point.
  • Don’t be scared of making mistakes; when we talk about personal or sensitive areas it will feel awkward. If the person you are talking to is offended you can apologise and move on.

Talking about birth control

It’s important to bring up accessing birth control as soon as the family arrives so that the family members’ reproductive health remains in their control. This is not a chat about the birds and the bees but a frank conversation between adults to help them get access to the services and resources they choose.

What to do

  • Many Groups find it easy to work the topic of accessing contraceptives into a conversation about the role of the GP, when explaining the GPs role in prescribing medicine. You can do this when the whole family is present to show that this is not a taboo subject.
  • You could also bring this up when speaking only with females in the family and inform them that they can request to see a female GP and use a female phone interpreter for their GP appointment, reminding them that everything that is discussed with the GP is completely confidential. Don’t shy away from these conversations.
  • If female family members arrive without any form of birth control and express the need to access contraceptives right away, you may be able to help them access sexual health clinics in the area that take walk-in appointments. This can also be the fastest way of accessing different birth control options like the coil or an implant.
  • Many Groups also provide condoms and include them in their pack of toiletries. When familiarising the family with the house, make sure you point out that these have been supplied.

What to avoid

  • If you feel unable to bring up the subject of birth control or contraception, find someone else in your Group who can.
  • Consciously avoid judgement or a paternalistic approach to advice on this subject. The choices someone makes about how many children they do or don’t have is their choice alone. It may be a woman’s wish to have more children in the UK but not until she’s learned English or helped her other children adjust to their new life, or she may not want to have more children at all.

Providing sanitary pads and tampons

If you are welcoming any female family members, ages 11 to 65, be sure to provide enough sanitary pads and tampons to last for one week for each female. You won’t know their product preferences, and you shouldn’t make assumptions, so we recommend providing regular tampons and regular pads in the pack of toiletries you provide the family. When familiarising the family with the house, make sure you point out where to find these products in case they’re needed.

Talking about the physical discipline of children

The refugees you support may come from a culture where physically disciplining children is the norm and how their family have been parenting for generations. Whilst it’s not your role as a Group member to judge their parenting techniques, it’s very important that the adults in the family are aware that smacking children and other forms of physical discipline are not acceptable and will not be tolerated in the UK. It is illegal to physically punish a child in Scotland and Wales.

When preparing for arrival to the UK, parents will have been told that physically disciplining children in the UK can result in government services intervening. It’s also likely that they’ve heard rumours from members of their community about children being taken aware from their parents after being resettled. Although you won’t be able to confirm if these rumours are true, you can reassure the family that children are only taken by social services if they are deemed to be in a very dangerous situation.

If the parents you support need help adjusting their parenting techniques, you can point them toward the NSPCC Positive Parenting guide, which makes the case against the physical punishment of children while offering tips and advice to change problematic parenting habits.

Remember that you should never be afraid of reporting a safeguarding concern. If you or other Group members are concerned with the way the parents in the family are disciplining or handling their children, talk to your safeguarding lead and they can get in touch with your Local Authority’s safeguarding team, as they will likely have dealt with similar situations and be able to offer practical advice on how to discuss discipline with the family you support.

Addressing housing complaints

Many Community Sponsorship Groups, as well as those working on other resettlement programmes in the UK often share that after the initial excitement, the resettled family are likely to express concern or annoyance with the property they are living in.

If/when complaints like these arise, don’t take them personally or become emotional when addressing them. Remember that refugees have high expectations when coming to the UK and that disappointment in their new circumstances could be part of adjusting to the realities of life in the UK. There will be things that you accommodate and others that you can’t and make this clear to the family. Our addressing housing complaints resource gives a thorough overview of how to talk about this common issue, and strategies of how to help the family become more comfortable with their new living arrangements.

Talking about the Group’s financial obligations to the family

Before travelling to the UK the family you support will receive an overview of the support your Group will and will not provide their family but be prepared for misunderstandings to occur, especially when it comes to providing the family with money. Groups often find that families arrive in the UK expecting to live in financial comfort and are surprised and disappointed when they realise that living on benefits requires extremely careful budgeting.

Talking about money can be uncomfortable, especially in relation to those who have less than us and who we are meant to be supporting, but it’s important to be very firm with the family about what you will and will not provide from the beginning. Below are suggestions of how to communicate what you are required to provide, what you’ve decided to provide and what you will not provide to the family so that they’re clear about the boundaries of your support.

As a Community Sponsorship Group, we are required to:

  • Give £200 to each family member that will last you until your first benefits payment. You do not have to repay this money.

As a Community Sponsorship Group, we have decided to:

  • Pay a housing top up to your rent;
  • Provide you with a broadband connection that we will pay for XXX months

As a Community Sponsorship Group, we will not pay for:

  • Rent
  • Utility bills
  • Public transportation
  • Groceries
  • Cigarettes

You should also be clear about if your Group has an emergency fund for certain items and how you decide when to tap into this fund. If your Group has decided that you will loan money to the family, you should also be clear about the parameters of the loan.

Discussing divorce or family separation

As supporters of newly resettled refugees, it’s important to remind yourselves that the family you support are adults, who have been making decisions for themselves and their family for a very long time and they will continue to make personal decisions once they arrive. It’s possible that the family you support will decide to separate upon arrival in the UK or that the adults in the family will decide to end their marriage. This is of course a difficult decision for the family you support but it can be a challenging situation to navigate and talk about as a Community Sponsorship Group.

If you are faced with this challenge, approach this using the tips in our dealing with challenges resource on divorce and separation.

Awkward conversations with volunteers

Managing and communicating with volunteers effectively is key when delivering support to empower the refugee family. It’s important that everyone is on the same page regarding your empowerment approach and the boundaries that you’ve set with the family, which can be achieved through clearly communicated expectations with volunteers. However, you might be faced with a situation where a volunteer is not following the Group’s approach or is not showing up for their agreed-upon duties. As volunteers aren’t being paid for their time, having difficult conversations about their performance or role in the Group may feel wrong or awkward. Below are some tips on having difficult conversations with volunteers you’re managing:

  • Remind the volunteer of your empowerment approach and the boundaries you’ve set. Some Groups develop a code of conduct before the family arrives so that volunteers know exactly what is expected of them. If someone is veering away from your approach, you can refer back to this document.
  • Don’t be afraid to have an awkward conversation. By not shying away from tough topics, you will make the volunteer concerned feel supported, even if you are telling them things that are hard for them to hear.
  • Don’t be fearful about asking a volunteer to step down from their role as a last resort.  Allow time and honest feedback on the performance of the volunteer and should problems not be resolved, consider asking them to leave the Group. Use our managing volunteers advice to help you with this.