NUMBER 830 • 19 SEPTEMBER • FAMILY INTERVENTION
In this new model, the child care worker becomes family “therapist,” although not in the sense of sitting with the family in an organized meeting and discussing their feelings or structuring communication. Instead, it is intervention which happens in the day-in, day-out interaction of the child care worker with the family, the child, and with the family and child together. It recognizes that every interaction with a child – for good or for ill – is intervention into the life of the family. This concept of a new role for the residential child care worker is increasingly being supported by professionals in child welfare (Ainsworth, 1981; Kufeldt, 1982; Zuckerman, 1983).
In addition to the clarification of the child care worker's role and a recognition that parents can only become better parents if they are allowed to assume responsibility in the parent role, there are other reasons that this model holds promise.
First, there is no better classroom for learning parenting skills than group living, Parents interact not only with their own children but with the children of others, and similarly see the child care workers conducting daily activities with a variety of children. Often these interactions around daily life together are far less emotionally charged than the interaction in a formal counseling setting. Since learning is difficult in high anxiety situations, this means that learning communication, conflict management, and discipline skills is more probable than in formal counseling sessions where anxiety is likely to be high. Also, there are more interaction events occurring, so that there is always an opportunity to try again, and to reinforce that which has been learned by repeated practice.
Second, a significant problem child care workers face is the negative peer pressure that often develops in residential child care. Research shows, however, that stronger parental ties lessen the effects of children on one another (Maier, 1981).
Third, research also indicates that the effectiveness of residential care is more highly correlated with what goes on with the family than with the nature of the treatment experience for the child within the residential setting (Maier, 1981).
Fourth, it does away with the concept of parents visiting their children and children visiting their parents' homes. “Visiting” is an inappropriate term when we are trying to emphasize that placement is temporary and parents are still parents who are integrally involved in the lives of their children. There is a significant difference in being a visitor in someone's home or the cottage of a residential child care center and being a family member; that difference goes beyond the semantics, representing the placement of responsibility and the commitment of family members to one another.
Finally, most families who have a child in residential care are suffering from crises beyond their coping capacities. They are socially isolated, without an adequate social network to support and provide tangible help in dealing with these crises. An intervention approach which addresses only the intrafamilial relationship issues and ignores the ecological system of the family may have relieved the family's stress while the child is in placement only to find the family again swamped beyond its coping capacity when the child is returned to the family still attempting to cope with those unresolved crises. In this model, the social worker assumes the role of system interventionist in helping the family with these problems. In addition, the social worker maintains an extended involvement with the family after the child is returned in order to reinforce changes and provide additional services designed to enhance the family's coping abilities.
DIANA RICHMOND GARLAND
Garland, D.S.R. (1987) Residential child care workers as primary agents of family intervention. Child & Youth Care Quarterly, 16,1. pp.21-34