Social Work and Family systems

12 Sep

667I am going to start this off by saying, if you are a social worker, none of this should be new or revolutionary. I think we need to start seeing people as part of larger systems that are interconnected because very rarely are our clients existing in isolation. Having said that SCIE (Social Care Institute for Excellence) says:

The Think Family agenda recognises and promotes the importance of a whole-family approach which is built on the principles of ‘Reaching out: think family’ (18):

  • No wrong door – contact with any service offers an open door into a system of joined-up support. This is based on more coordination between adult and children’s services.
  • Looking at the whole family – services working with both adults and children take into account family circumstances and responsibilities. For example, an alcohol treatment service combines treatment with parenting classes while supervised childcare is provided for the children.
  • Providing support tailored to need – working with families to agree a package of support best suited to their particular situation.
  • Building on family strengths – practitioners work in partnerships with families recognising and promoting resilience and helping them to build their capabilities. For example, family group conferencing is used to empower a family to negotiate their own solution to a problem.

There are many things we need to consider when we are looking at assessing children who are exhibiting a need. I purposely didn’t say children in need as this refers to a specific population and I believe the following could be applied when conducting an assessment with any child and family. As I have said in other posts, understanding the context in which a child lives is critically to effecting lasting change.

This is what I refer to as Familial Interdependence (my term, if you use it quote me): By including the needs of the adults and other children in the home in our assessments and interventions, we are recognising the interdependence and inter-relatedness of the family and its circumstances.

No member of a family operates in isolation. The behaviour or circumstances of an individual member is going to have an impact on other members. This is the foundation of a family working.

We recognize and acknowledge the impact of unemployment on parents’ ability to be completely mentally and emotionally available to their children and each other. We recognise the impact of youth offending on the other children in the home and parents’ ability to continue to parent effectively while managing the behaviour of the offender. We recognise how all of these or other social issues may be impacting on parents’ ability to ensure their child(ren) are attending school regularly and on time to be counted.

Working with the entire family does not represent a shift in how we view children or how we work with them. It represents a shift in how we view the impact of the entire family’s circumstances on the child (ren), their ability to function and their ability to develop in their current environment.

In the current economic climate we are seeing a change in the way social care workers are expected to work. One view is a return to a time where social care staff were undertaking generic working. Social Workers, support workers, family workers – all worked with children and adults. In an age of cost saving, we are all looking to do more for less. All current work and work that is to be undertaken in the near future has to be sustainable and able to meet the needs of families. It needs to have built in processes to ensure that it can withstand proposed cuts so as not to disrupt service delivery and the positive outcomes stability can yield.

Services overall need to understand and appreciate these facts early on and build their system of working with the family around the current staff instead of creating new structures. Social Workers need to be taught the skills to be a sustainable workforce that would also provide a continuity of service and familiarity to clients from the outset which is why we need to ensure that reforms to social work education should be robust and responsive to the needs on the ground.


Posted by on September 12, 2014 in Social Work Practice


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4 responses to “Social Work and Family systems

  1. Katrina Spears

    September 12, 2014 at 8:27 pm

    I noticed in this article that you did not mention the impact of cuts on families or how social workers view poverty. When did social work only focus on the worker and forget about their clients?


    • TG Consultancy

      September 13, 2014 at 7:37 pm

      No it didn’t. The worker isn’t more important but the work can’t get done if the workers are not supplied with the knowledge, skills and experience they need to do it. This post was not trying to capture the totality of need or every social issue effecting families and workers. It’s just a snapshot, a connection between the need and how we can make sure workers have the ability to address the need.


      • Katrina Spears

        September 14, 2014 at 7:31 am

        Yes that was obvious however your subject speaks about the impact to social workers and calls for a more empathetic approach. We as social workers seem to takes two stands. Ours and thiers and this article would have been more complete if there was a brief empathetic comment on how poverty is viewed by our superiors and how we view it for our clients.


      • TG Consultancy

        September 14, 2014 at 8:16 am

        Social work and poverty have always been connected and I understand your point. Thank you for your input. It is definitely a subject that could be explored more.



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