Training for Professionals on Breaking the News

Positive Parenting Malta brought on a clinical coordinator, Ms. Elaine Schembri Lia, Clinical Psychologist and Family Therapist to help with the implementation of ‘Breaking the News’ training.   Locally, the training in relation to ‘Breaking the News’ for professionals came about because of the launch of the Positive Parenting Policy. Since the initial drafting phases of this policy and the public consultations done in this regard, it has been recognised that breaking the news is an important topic for parents and professionals alike. Regrettably, across the board, consulting partners recognised that despite its importance, news break-ups were not being given due attention in terms of both training and best practice. Indeed, consultees acknowledged that whilst each news breakup requires sensitivity, diagnoses are often given by professionals with varied levels of clinical practice and confidence, in different settings, making space for varied experiences and aftermaths.

It has long been recognised that the delivery of sensitive news to parents, children and families, is a life-changing experience, which impacts them and the progress which they make differently over time.

The first set of training about ‘Breaking the News’ was carried out in collaboration between the CRPD and the Allied Health Care Services in 2016. Following the success of this training programme and the recognised need for more of such initiatives, the Positive Parenting Taskforce decided to re-invent this training in 2020, this time by working in close collaboration with the Maltese Association for Paediatricians, the Malta Midwives’ Association and the Department of Disability Studies at the University of Malta. The aim for this new set of training was to address the direct needs of trainees and professionals working in contexts where news is broken in relation to pre-birth and paediatric situations as well as to facilitate the support which can be provided to the children and families following such news breakup in the long term.

The training aimed to offer succinct 2-hour online seminars to professionals working in these settings, including psychologists, psychiatrists, midwives, paediatricians, paediatric health staff, educators, social workers, occupational therapists, nurses, physiotherapists, mental health workers, and speech therapists, amongst others. The hope was for this training to enable a space whereby attendees could gain insight into the latest empirical evidence in relation to breaking the news which could guide their practice, listen and reflect on live case scenarios presented by parents or individuals who had experienced local news breakup themselves, as well as discuss with experts and fellow participants any areas of concern or topics of interest which they had.

Main Aims of the Breaking the News Training:

  • To train professionals who break the news to the parents and members of the family especially when the new-born has a disability.
  • How to deal with grief and day to day issues

Thus far, a masterclass by renowned expert Prof. Froma Walsh, on ‘Sustaining Family Resilience in the context of challenges with paediatric ill health, loss and disability’, along with 9 workshops, by local field experts, have been carried out in 2021. These were well-received and attended by over 600 professionals from various sectors. The aim is for these seminars to continue in 2022 with the hope of reaching out to a wider professional audience and possibly indirectly helping more families.

Below is a list of the ‘Breaking the news’ training seminars:

  1. Breaking the news: What to do and what not to do – Prof. Attard Montalto
  2. Working with the context in the aftermath of news breakup – liaising with schools, services, community, peers, etc. – to sustain inclusion for all – Stephanie Farrugia
  3. Acknowledging the needs of parents with disability – Amy Camilleri Zahra and Dr. Claire Azzopardi Lane
  4. Listening and giving a voice to the needs of the youngster with disability – Elvira Psaila
  5. Understanding and being sensitive to the needs of parents of young children when receiving negative news/diagnosis – Dr. Elayne Azzopardi
  6. Breaking the news prior to birth when there is a disability or a condition incompatible with life – Stephanie Farrugia
  7. The need for multidisciplinary intervention, holistic support, assistance and follow-up after giving a sensitive news to parents – Mary Buttigieg Said & Nicole Calleja
  8. Giving the news of a disability at birth: The paediatrics’ experience – Rebecca Mizzi & Profs Simon Attard Montalto
  9. Breaking the news of a disability in the advent of parental mental health issues – Emma Beck
  10. Supporting the whole family system after negative news breakup – including the fathers, siblings and extended family members – Elaine Schembri Lia
  11. Giving news to parents about neurodevelopmental disorders diagnosed in early years – Dr. Christopher Sciberras
  12. Taking care of ourselves as professionals sharing ‘the news’ and repeatedly facing difficult circumstances with those we care for – Charlene Attard Falzon

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