Former head of the Centre for Parent and Child Support, and co-author of the Family Partnership Model Facilitator Training Kit, Hilton Davis tells us about his inspirational work with families of children with problems across the range of disabilities, serious physical illness and psychological difficulties. Now retired, when not covered in brick dust, he enjoys life on the ocean wave.
Where/what did you study, and what are your qualifications?
I was supposedly an able linguist at school, so I began my university career at the University of Wales in Swansea studying French, Latin and Greek. However, after the first year I changed to Psychology, because I found it much more interesting and useful. I then went on to train as a clinical psychologist at Oxford, with particular emphasis on working with serious offenders in special hospitals such as Broadmoor and Rampton.
Having become somewhat disillusioned by this work, where intervention seemed to be much too late and of dubious efficacy, I spent some time at Brown University (Providence, Rhode Island) in the USA doing neuroscience research, before returning to the UK to study areas of child development.
Although I enjoyed looking at the functioning of the nervous system, the work did not allow answers to questions about the origins of psychological difficulties. I pursued this by researching the interaction between parents and their babies from birth onward and was eventually awarded a PhD for this work by the University of London.
Tell us about your professional experience:
I have worked as a clinical psychologist for most of my career with families of children with problems across the range of disabilities, serious physical illnesses and psychological difficulties. This work was mostly carried out within the context of academic posts I held within medical schools of the University of London. I worked at the Royal London Hospital Medical College from 1978 to 1992 and then at Guy’s Hospital as Professor of Child Health Psychology until I retired in September 2007.
My clinical work led to me trying to develop a detailed understanding of the helping processes. I wanted to develop an explicit model of what were the main ingredients of effective helping and how they operated. This was important for my own work with families, but also as the basis for training medical students and other people such as nurses, social workers and teachers who worked throughout the whole range of child and family services.
Deriving a model was stimulated partly by my own lack of an explicit understanding of how to alleviate suffering and partly by deficits in public services, which I saw as driven by professional expertise and not by the needs of parents and children.
My particular concerns were with families’ experiences of poor professional communication, the lack of a preventive orientation and a focus on reacting to specific problems without an informed consideration of holistic outcomes such as; promoting the psychological and social well-being of the people using services whatever the specific service aims.
The development of this Model, which eventually became know as the Family Partnership Model, has been the major focus and main achievement of my professional career. Discovering the main elements of effective helping has involved extensive exploration of the literature documenting the ideas of others, detailed observation of skilled practitioners from many different professions and intensive discussions with families and practitioners from many different countries.
I have also been involved in designing and conducting a variety of research studies to evaluate the Model, both in relation to its effectiveness in practice and in testing aspects of the processes suggested by the Model.
The most stimulating aspect of the work has been the development of experiential courses to train practitioners to help others more effectively and to train facilitators to teacher these courses. Over the years as the psychological needs of children and families have become more understood and more pressing, the emphasis on prevention within the Model has grown enormously.
What are your current projects?
I retired in 2007 in order to have the time to describe my developing understanding of the Model in ways that are meaningful and accessible to both parents and professionals. As a result I have produced a two volume facilitator training manual to enable experienced practitioners to train others to work in partnership with families and a second edition of a book describing the Model in detail.
These were written with Crispin Day, who took over from me as the Head of the Centre for Parent and Child Support at Guy’s Hospital. The manual was published last year and the book is to appear in November. Both are published by Pearson Assessment.
I am currently working on a book developing the Family Partnership Model further by applying it directly to the understanding of effective parenting. In addition, I am continuing to work with Professors Geoff Lindsay and Jane Barlow at the University of Warwick on what is called the Parenting Early Intervention Project.
This is a government funded programme that began in 2008 with the aim of exploring the ability of local authorities to develop and implement wide scale parenting support across their areas and to evaluate the outcomes for families. I am also involved with the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health in developing ways to help parents prevent obesity in their children in the first year or so of life.
Who have you worked with?
I have worked with an amazing array of children and parents, who have taught me more than I can say. These have included families dealing with severe disabilities and chronic illnesses, parents whose children have died as a result of these condition and children and parents with psychological and social difficulties that have important implications for all aspects of their lives.
More recently I have been working with families at risk of psychological and social problems in order to prevent such difficulties arising. This has involved the development of a variety of universal and targeted promotional and preventive services that have been implemented in the UK, various European countries such as Finland, Serbia and Greece, and throughout Australia and New Zealand.
My work on prevention required me to conduct extensive training to enable practitioners to engage and work with families before birth and in research to evaluate the outcomes of their work in relation to preventing abuse of children and the development of psychosocial problems.
It has been a privilege to work with families and practitioners across so many cultures and countries. It has been wonderful to experience the ideas of so many different people and to collaborate in developing an understanding of helping that applies across all service systems including the law, medicine, social care and education.
What inspired you to get into this field?
Although I suspect I got into this field largely by accident, it was undoubtedly influenced by my own personal relationships and problems. From a very early age I frequently found myself needing to or wanting to help people with their problems.
The desire to understand how to make beneficial changes, whether these were in myself or in others, was fuelled by observations of poor professional communication and the dubious quality of relationships between professionals and the people in their care.
Early on in my career it made me angry that professionals, especially in medicine, were given such importance that it detracted from the role and importance of the people they were supposed to serve. It did nothing to promote the personal well-being of those in their care and one could argue that it contributed to their problems by diminishing their self-esteem.
If you weren’t a clinical psychologist, what would you be?
If I were not a clinical psychologist, I would probably have become a racing mechanic. In my teens I loved working on cars and was gradually getting involved in racing at Brands Hatch. Parents and school got in the way of this and persuaded me to go to university instead!
What do you do in your leisure time?
I am a passionate dinghy sailor (see image, right) and have been learning to sail for the last two years. In spite of being generally uncoordinated and clumsy, I have done reasonably well and have actually managed not to come last once or twice in racing events! I have a Laser, which is a bit like an ironing board with a sail. It’s not easy to sail and I spend a considerable time in the water as opposed to the boat.
I sail at Lyme Regis, where we came to live when I retired. We eventually found our dream home, which we have been renovating (see image, below right) for the last six months. I therefore spend most of my time at the moment covered in brick dust, insulation and cement.
Read more about the work of the Centre for Parent and Child Support >
Hilton is co-author of the Family Partnership Model Facilitator Training Kit.
His new book Working in Partnership: Family Partnership Model is now available.