Engaging Clients in Family and Child Service
Successfully engaging clients in the helping process is an important task for social work practitioners. There is a close association with the development of helping relationship and positive treatment results (Shrik & Karver, 2003, as cited in Gladstone et al., 2012). A study conducted at ‘Vancouver Family Preservation and Reunification Services’ by Gockel et al., (2008) found that successful social work interventions can create a nurturing environment for children in families. The study further says that healthy worker-client relationship can create a critical awareness about attitudes, beliefs, behaviours and values of both parties. This awareness would possibly help families to take initiatives for change and engage in the helping process successfully. I argue that the way families perceive the relationship with a worker in the family and child services is influencing and shaping the views of the family about the intervention and process. Families involved in the welfare system are often faced multiple challenges includes, “poverty”, “single parenthood”, “violence”, “substance abuse” and/or “mental and physical disabilities” (Gockel, 2008 p.98). These families are also facing a traumatic demoralizing due to the frequent experience of state intervention. Literatures (Russel, Haris, Gockel, & Jessel, 2004; Guterman, 2001; Kapp & Propp, 2002) articulates that due to the experience of frequent state intervention and fear of adverse consequences; the families are reluctant to cooperate with further services and can be defensive of providing information about the family and their parenting.
The effectiveness of social work interventions are depends on the full and complete participation of the client. According to Dawson & Berry (2002) participation of the clients can be in two ways, “collaboration” and “compliance” (p.296). Collaboration consists of participation and agreement of the service plan, and compliances are the behaviour of the client such as maintaining the appointments, cooperate with agency and worker, and achieving tasks. Collaboration and compliance are very important in client engagement.
As a primary level engaging, a “non judgemental acceptance” is significant, regardless the responds and initial attitude of the clients (Gockel et al., 2008, p.99). Dawson & Berry (2002) explains that assisting families to define their own problems and providing emotional support by actively pay attention to clients will help both parties to set their goals without difficulty. Responses of the worker towards the family’s experiences are also important. Each family is unique, and each parent responding to their children differently. Worker should recognize the uniqueness of the family and develop an individual responsive approach in a flexible manner. A strength-based intervention can contribute to successful engagement of clients in family and child services. Identify and appreciate the skills and efforts of the family as well as children. Recognize the parenting challenges and assist them to find own best possible solutions.
As a secondary engaging strategy, the worker should exhibit a “sense of empathy” and make clear understanding about the various interlocking problems facing by the clients. Client’s own previous personal, social and structural oppressive experience needs to be explored to establish a meaningful relationship with the client. Gockel et al., (2008) argues that client respect the worker’s capacity and expertise to deal with the issues. This attitude will positively influence the effectiveness of intervention. Being flexible and honest to the clients would possibly bring confidence among service users about the intervention. Workers can build trust by targeting on the real problem rather than individual’s shortcomings. Also demonstrate integrity and openness; motivate clients to follow the action plan and recommendations.
A democratic use of power in the intervention process will create immense changes in the worker-client relationship. Invite clients to all possible situations to participate in the decision making process. Make awareness about the entire process and empower them by providing all related information and options. Strega & Carriere (2009) argues that clients have the right to know about what is doing for them by the worker and how; in any case, worker should maintain transparency and provide ample opportunity to the clients to involve in the process without fear of worker’s power. Worker needs to respect the boundaries of the rights that clients have as a family and/or a parent. An autocratic approach can affect the confidence of the client and feel despair and powerlessness.
As a strategic approach assist clients to enhance their existing skills and develop new skills. It will help them to manage their life situations and address their needs effectively. As Strega and Carriere (2009 p.19) explains, the practitioners should recognize the stress and pain of the client encountering “ongoing impacts of colonialism” and “capitalism” in their day-to-day life. Study conducted by Gockel et al., (2008) illustrates that clients those who acquired knowledge and skills to effectively manage their daily life with the support of a worker demonstrates incredible change in their parenting capacity and problem solving skills.
Skills and experience of the worker play a vital role in engaging clients in family and child services. Gladstone et al., (2012) found that families involved in the welfare system valued the skill and experience of the workers. Families assumed that experienced workers are able to understand diverse family problems. The same study correspondingly states that the experience is helping workers too, to understand and deal with diverse family problems in a better way. However, there is a relationship between the worker’s perception of family engagement and family’s insight of their own involvement in the helping process. Further understanding is that, client engagement is the process of setting goals collaboratively based on mutual acceptance and trust.
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