Engaging vulnerable adults to become more resilient – through Clean Interviewing

You’ve probably read the stories about vulnerable adults falling victim to scammers. Some people are losing their life savings, their sense of wellbeing and their peace of mind. The scammers target them through the Internet, door-to-door and through mail scams.

A story about scams, the elderly and mental health, appeared in the Guardian just this week.

Once someone has fallen victim to one scam they become more vulnerable to others. Their details can be passed on to other scammers and are even shared on lists meaning that they get targeted more and more frequently. People are particularly at risk if they lack a family support structure, are in the early stages of dementia, suffer from mental health issues or are lonely.

One of the troubles with victims of scams is that they can feel too ashamed to tell anyone what is happening and so their families and friends and the service providers around them do not always know that they need help.

The problem of scams and scam victims is one that is being addressed by Trading Standards Authorities across the UK.

They want to raise awareness amongst their more vulnerable residents and to empower them to resist scams and to report them to the council or the police.

There are a number of reasons Trading Standards want to tackle this problem. The scammers are mis-selling things which make it a Trading Standards issue but they also want to tackle the problem at a community level because it makes adults more vulnerable and therefore more at risk of getting into other difficulties such as mental health issues, poverty and even homelessness.

In 2015 a North Western Borough Council decided to take this problem on. The question was ‘how best to tackle it?’ They began knocking on doors of residents whom they thought might be vulnerable in order to interview them and try to uncover whether they’d been scammed or not and to support them to be more scam proof.

Once they began, they quickly realised that the information, advice and guidance skills, so successful in other areas, were not as effective in engaging this client group. They were used to giving advice that was being sought and responding to requests for information whereas this new venture meant engaging and building a trusting relationship with the clients who might not realise that they were victims or might be reluctant to share information about scams they were involved in.

So they needed a gentler form of engagement and interviewing which is where Training Attention and Clean Interviewing came in.

We have over 15 years of experience in engaging vulnerable adults in coaching conversations that encourage information sharing, self-reflection and resilience. We offered the council a 5-day training programme in ‘Clean Interviewing’ with on-the-job coaching in between sessions.

We asked the officers open questions about their own experiences of being scammed or hoodwinked. We taught them clean and clean-enough questions for gently gathering information from someone else. The beauty of clean questions is that as well as gathering information, they also help the other person build up a sense of what has happened to them without pushing them or leading them to feel judged.

We originally developed the approach for engaging disaffected teenagers who were at risk of becoming criminals, then with the long term unemployed and then we consolidated the approach into a training programme for police interviewers. Since its early development it has proved highly successful in qualitative research, project evaluation, mediation and recruitment – in fact in any situation where the interviewer wants to be able to gather high quality information without influencing the content of people’s answers.

After the first two training sessions our recruitment team went out with the Trading Standards Officers and gave them on-the-job Clean Feedback and coaching to get the skills adapted to their own clients and embedded in their behaviour.

While these kinds of approaches have been shown to work really well in engaging the most disengaged; it takes time and attention to train staff and for them to build relationships with clients and this is a big concern in times of austerity. This Borough Council chose to invest in their staff with Training Attention and the team itself, as well as their residents can benefit. Those without access to funding need to find alternative routes to getting this kind of training.

One possibility is to collaborate across councils to share training costs and then to cascade Clean Interviewing, or something similar, so that one team trains and coaches the next and so on. In-house training means that the course is tailored specifically for their needs and also becomes a tool that can be used in other areas and for internal team building.

This way it won’t only be the scammers that are building strong relationships with our vulnerable adults.

For more information about Training Attention projects contact dawn@trainingattention.co.uk.

To book on an Introduction to Clean Interviewing and to explore other options for all kinds of Clean Language Training visit www.cleanlearning.co.uk

Caitlin Walker

Caitlin is the founding director of Training Attention and developer of Systemic Modelling. Author of From Contempt to Curiosity, she is the architect of innovative projects that transform workplaces, classrooms and communities.


This Post is posted by Caitlin Walker

Caitlin is the founding director of Training Attention and developer of Systemic Modelling. Author of From Contempt to Curiosity, she is the architect of innovative projects that transform workplaces, classrooms and communities.

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