Leaping Forward # 11: A proper look at systems theory helps prevent parent and professional burnout

Reducing mental and physical exhaustion in the people around children with complex care needs is a moral imperative

The scoping review featured in TAC Bulletin about parent burnout is a valuable exercise that raises many important issues for me. These include:

  • Professionals can suffer burnout too.
  • Burnout is only the peak of a mountain of stress, anxiety, over-work, and sometimes despair with thoughts of suicide.
  • The term complex care needs can lead to complex care provision and then the obvious question, ‘Can we make care provision less complex?’
  • Lastly, the causes of burnout.

In this ‘Leaping Forward in the development of early child and family support’ article I want to address the last point above about causes. In my experience, causes of burnout include both the child’s condition and the way support is provided. I have been with many families who would have adapted sooner to their new life with a child with complex care needs if support services had been better organised and less chaotic.

Sadly, I have also seen families whose child is not ‘complex’ having to struggle with support services that are unnecessarily complex, mystifying, fragmented and stressful. Too often, there is a group of professionals around the family from various agencies who do not know what each other is doing and who have no proper mechanism for working together. This can keep parents awake at night.

Systems theory tells us how to help the 'group' become a 'team' around the child with shared aims and approaches. Such a team (or TAC) requires the professionals and parents to come together with honesty and mutual respect for each other’s skills. This is horizontal teamwork at its best.

The systems approach has two advantages:

  • It eradicates confusion, fragmentation and chaos as far as possible.
  • It brings professionals and parents into a small well-organised system that has knowledge, skills and creativity none of the people had on their own.

This TAC approach can help a family restore a quality of life with fewer stresses and strains. It can also reduce the danger of professional burnout as their work around each child is rationalised. When support is properly organised as a system, professionals will find they have more flexibility in how they manage their caseloads.

There are emotional elements to consider when professionals feel threatened by teamwork or are unwilling to share knowledge and skills with others, but if we can reduce burnout in parents the effort is worthwhile.  

This is the magic of systems theory, transforming groups into effective teams. All we have to lose is our egos.

Peter Limbrick, June 2024

More about TAC: https://www.tacinterconnections.com/index.php/allnews/publications/3870-tac-for-the-21st-century-nine-essays-on-team-around-the-child-free-pdf-of-the-whole-book

More about horizontal teamwork: https://www.tacinterconnections.com/index.php/allnews/publications/3869-horizontal-teamwork-in-a-vertical-world-exploring-interagency-collaboration-and-people-empowerment-free-pdf-of-the-whole-book

More about systems: https://www.tacinterconnections.com/index.php/allnews/publications/1757-the-systems-view-of-life-by-fritjof-capra-and-pier-luigi-luisi-2014

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