NUMBER 1164 • 30 APRIL • WORK WITH FAMILIES
All of us, family members and workers, have had previous experiences which will be relevant to our interactions. Previous experiences with social service workers, with police or other authorities, of trying to obtain help and of having strangers in the house, may all be relevant for the family. Previous experiences of trying to be helpful, of working with families with similar characteristics, or of working independently may be of importance to the practitioner. And, of course, the history of each is relevant to the others. In writing about history here, we are concerned primarily with the previous experiences of the family, family members, and the child and youth care practitioner. For the importance of history cannot be denied and the family, in whatever form we understand it, remains a very significant influence on all of us (see Fewster, 2004). When we enter into a situation, or have an experience, we search for ways to make sense of that experience. One of the most powerful influences on how we experience and interpret that experience comes from our previous experiences of similar situations.
Imagine for a moment that a practitioner is going to visit a family that lives in a particular part of town. The last time that the worker visited a family in this area she was ejected out of the family home by a mother, angry with what she thought the worker had said. Going now to visit this new family, the worker will be influenced by the previous experience. She may be hesitant, determined, cautious, excited as she uses her framework of previous similar experiences to prepare herself for this new encounter.
Imagine, too, that the family who is waiting for the worker to arrive has made previous attempts to obtain help, although in a more traditional form. And each time, the help has not seemed to resolve the problems they were experiencing. As they wait for the worker to arrive, will they not be thinking about these previous experiences, and will their expectations not be influenced by them? And what if all of their previous experiences had resulted in positive outcomes? How might this impact on their expectations?
As workers, when we prepare ourselves for our encounters with families, we need to ask: What am I bringing to this encounter from my own previous history? What similar experiences have I had? What similar situations have I encountered? And how do these help or hinder me now? As we work with families, we also try to understand their previous experiences and how these impact on our encounter.
Child and youth care work with families is a complex and demanding field of practice. The purpose of this current chapter is to provide some `food for thought' for social care workers/family support workers interested in working with families. It is not intended to be exhaustive, simply to provide some stimulus to encourage the practitioner to reflect seriously before jumping on to the bandwagon of working with families.
Child and youth care workers who engage with families are not family therapists in the formal sense of that term. Nor are they social workers, psychologists or some other human services professional, although many of the tasks, philosophies and skills are similar. They are social care practitioners and, as such, we argue that they should practice within a child and youth care framework. They are not therapists, but their work is genuinely therapeutic. They do not follow the models of other professions, although they learn from, and in many cases contribute to them. In order to be an effective social care practitioner with families, the social care worker must know, and be fully grounded, in their own profession and the way in which family is considered in social care and child and youth care practice.
THOM GARFAT and NIALL McELWEE
Garfat, G. and McElwee, N. (2004). Developing effective interventions with families: An EirCan perspective. Cape Town: Pretext