When working with clients in the field of social work, the key to success is ensuring that the service fits the client; the client should not be forced to fit the service. As a Lead Family Engagement Specialist, I have the best job in the world because I get to think creatively when trying to fit services to the client’s needs.
What does this mean? Each client in our Family Services programs comes with unique needs, motivations, strengths and goals. It is my passion to be able to learn about my client and find ways to offer useful services. One of the ways that I have been able to meet client needs is by understanding what their barriers are to being reunited with their children.
I worked with a mother who was trying to get her three children back in her home. She had been living with her mother and shared with me that she and her mother did not get along. In fact, their relationship had always been emotionally abusive. It was crucial that this mother get into a home of her own, and she communicated this to me during our individual meetings.
While the mother stated that she was looking for housing, she was having difficulty finding places and filling out the applications. After obtaining approval from my supervisor, I suggested to the client that we do this together. So, we looked for housing on the Internet; I helped her ask important questions and set up appointments; we went to the showing, and I helped the client fill out the applications.
The time that we spent together searching for homes and filling out applications gave me the opportunity to see another side of my client. She shared with me that she believed she was not worthy to get a place of her own, and I pushed her on to fill out another application and see another house. Each time she was rejected from a housing place, we tried harder to find another one. It took several months of searching, but the client was able to sign her lease at her own two- bedroom apartment. I remember her looking at me with a big smile on her face, thanking me and saying, “I never thought I would have a place of my own but I did it.”
There was no better way to help this client meet her needs other than helping her with searching for housing. Her family interaction sessions were moved into her home, and she continues to progress.
The services we provide in the Family Engagement Program occur in many settings, and family interactions are an important service that we provide. A typical family interaction occurs at the SaintA Family Center, the client’s home or in the community. With one particular family I became especially creative with their family interactions in the community.
The in-home interactions for this family were going very well, and I was not seeing any safety concerns. The client had shared with me that when the children were home they struggled with getting things done during the day. I observed that the client was getting anxious about reunification and if they were going to be able to maintain a safe home environment.
As I often do, I went home and reflected on these concerns and how I might help this family to be able to better manage the transition to reunification. The goal of each interaction is to try and ensure that they are realistic representations of that family’s daily life. This is when I came up with the idea of moving interaction into the community and observing how the client managed her children while they go grocery shopping or to a doctor’s appointment.
I was able to observe the family in a different setting with different behaviors. I worked with the mother to help her manage her children’s behavior in these necessary settings. We talked about ways that she could prevent certain situations while in these settings, such as bringing snacks, drinks, diapers, wipes and coloring books with crayons, which would help with crabby toddlers during a doctor visit, for example.
This mother became able to manage her children’s behaviors no matter the settings, because she was given the chance to succeed at being a parent. Sometimes our services set parents up to fail by overwhelming them with too much at once. I strive to see that my clients succeed no matter the barrier by adapting services to fit their needs.
Thinking about how one can adapt a service so that it fits a client allows a more lasting change to occur. When we talk about changes that clients need to make in order to get their children back, we are looking for a behavioral change that will last to serve the family. If the services that we provide are only touching the surface of what is really happening in a family, then we are not doing our jobs.
The best part of what I get to do every day is hang out with families who are learning how to be a family again.
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