The need for social work intervention is determined by the assessment and the areas that are to be addressed are identified within the plan (be that a child in need plan, child protection plan or care plan). Social workers are not the only professionals who are likely to be working with this particular family at this particular time.
Often a lot of the work with and on behalf of the family involves liaising with the other groups involved, however there is also a need to ensure that the work being undertaken is being done because it is needed and not because it something that is done with all families. It is also important to make sure that everyone working with the family is aware of the plan and their role within it, thus providing consistency in approach and the messages given to the child and their family.
What often is missed in social work practice is how the piece of work that has been done with the family has benefited them or worked towards effecting change. As student social workers we are often good at considering and evidencing this, partly due to the need to evidence it for the portfolio and partly due to having the space in which to reflect. Once qualifying however, this aspect is often lost as workloads and associated demands on our time increase.
In order to be effective it is imperative that these skills are not lost, and that each session with a family is considered in terms of how it is working towards the bigger goal. For example, if we consider work with a victim of domestic violence then a session may involve discussing with the victim the pros and cons of their relationship with the abuser. Such a session would be in line with the Cycle of Change (Prochaska & DiClementi, 1963), looking at moving the victim into a stage of contemplation about whether their relationship with the abuser should continue. This session could well take the form of a discussion over a cup of tea, however it is part of work towards a goal of breaking the cycle of abuse and protecting the victim and their child.
Due to the nature of many families that we work with, we are often not able to do the work that is planned due to the family being in crisis. On these occasions it is important to reflect about how the crisis impacts the family and whether a change in the plan is required. Social work is highly adaptable and often able to identify and address the underlying issues, with the outcome being that the changes of the crisis happening again are reduced.
Much has been written recently about working with resistant families, an example being the use of disguised compliance, namely where a family are appearing to work with the plan and agencies involved but with there being little change seen. Recent research suggests that often family members are "struggling to accept the relationship they need the most from family members: empathic, compassionate and boundaried, trust-building opportunities in which they can re-experience what it means to be cared for themselves" (Shemmings et al, 2012).
This is not suggesting that our relationships take a parent-child form, but that despite work is based in empathy but also clarity - recent evidence from the evaluation of the Troubled Families approach demonstrates the need to authoritatively and consistently challenge families through having difficult conversations (Dept for Communities and Local Government, 2012). However to do this requires support from all agencies and regular supervision.
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- Child protection
- Youth Offending
- Children with Disabilities