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About this book

From time to time all families face predicaments, and use their own resources to overcome them. However, sometimes these resources are insufficient and they need help. Through the use of richly detailed practice examples and case studies, this comprehensive book clearly and succinctly examines the knowledge, skills and attitude that social workers require in order to engage with and help families experiencing strain in a multitude of different situations. Taking a strongly ecological stance, it outlines the variety of external stressors that can push families into difficulty and provides a thorough examination of the ways in which social workers can understand, help and support them.

Concise and accessible, Supporting Families is an essential sourcebook for undergraduate and postgraduate students taking modules related to working with children and families as well as practitioners seeking a fresh source of reference.

Table of Contents

1. Helping Families

Abstract
This book sets out a family supportive approach to helping families, which aims to effectively support families when they are under strain. Even though lip service is often paid to ‘work with families’, this is often work with a child and/or a parent, but less commonly work focused on the whole family group or network. The chapters of this book will explore the knowledge, skills, attitudes and practices involved in family supportive practice, with the intention of setting out a framework for helping families. This first chapter sets out the notion of family supportive practice with its basic orientations as home-based, relationship building, ecological, preventative work carried out in particular policy, legal and political contexts.
Terence O'Sullivan

2. Understanding Families

Abstract
Workers need to develop good understandings of the families they work with if they are to effectively support them. Families are complex human groups embedded in social and material contexts; therefore, practitioners need relevant conceptual frameworks that enable them to make sense of what they hear and see. The quality of practitioners’ understandings will depend, among other things, on the extent to which they can build relationships with family members that enable open dialogue, which is the subject matter of Chapter 3. In addition, workers need to be able to intellectually cope with the complexity of families as human groups. Drawing mainly on family studies, family dynamics and ecological theory, this chapter aims to explain frameworks, concepts and theories that can potentially help practitioners develop understandings of family situations that do justice to the complexities involved and assist in working with families to overcome their difficulties. Equipped with such frameworks, practitioners will be in a better position to develop in-depth understandings of families.
Terence O’Sullivan

3. Families under Strain

Abstract
This chapter is concerned with the processes involved in families coming under strain and needing support. As explained in Chapter 1, ‘strain’ appears to be an apt metaphor for the consequences of the various pressures that families can experience that may cause suffering and harm. Many other terms have been and are being used for families that need help and support, including ‘dysfunctional families’, ‘problem families’, ‘chaotic families’ and ‘troubled families’. Over time, such terms tend to be abandoned as stigmatising, but it could be that whatever term is used will eventually carry a stigma, as, unfortunately, the families themselves are often stigmatised. The merit of the term ‘families under strain’ is that it is part of a framework for understanding families in difficulties.
Terence O’Sullivan

4. Being Supportive

Abstract
Whether family members eventually experience contact with practitioners as supportive will depend on a number of factors, including the worker’s attitude, demeanour and actions, and the efforts they make to engage family members. As the research of de Boer and Coady (2007: 40) suggests being supportive is not primarily a matter of learning techniques but more about ‘ways of being’. As they state, ‘specific techniques can augment an empathic, supportive and collaborative attitude and approach, but they cannot substitute for this’. If workers are to effectively support families and help them overcome the difficulties they face, they need to engage and build positive working relationships with family members. However, families and their members can understandably be ambivalent and wary of an outside agency coming into their family life.
Terence O’Sullivan

5. Supportive Interventions

Abstract
The adjective ‘supportive’ in the chapter title is necessary because not all interventions are supportive. Intervention tends to mean an outside agency or person becomes involved in a situation in order to help, prevent or resolve difficulties, problems or concerns. The issue is that there are different categories of intervention that form a spectrum ranging from ‘supportive’ to ‘coercive’, with the term ‘intervention’ often associated with the latter. Featherstone, Morris and White (2014) rightly point to the difference between ‘support’ and ‘intervention’ and argue that ‘the term intervention needs interrogation, as it suggests practices delivered to families rather than practices with families’ (Featherstone, Morris and White, 2014:1740). This is not just a problem of terminology, as there is a real danger that ‘supportive interventions’ becomes something imposed on families rather than done with families. Consequently, care needs to be taken that ‘supportive interventions’ are done with families rather than done to families.
Terence O’Sullivan

6. Working Collaboratively

Abstract
It is not uncommon for a number of workers, agencies and services to be involved in supporting a family. For example, child welfare concerns rarely occur in isolation from other issues and require both interprofessional collaboration and inter-agency cooperation. It may not be easy for members of the professional network to imagine how family members experience having so many workers involved with them. Workers need to have in mind that families can find the experience daunting, chaotic and exhausting, and there is a need for interprofessional teams and networks to achieve a balance between ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’ and ‘many hands make light work’ (Morris et al., 2015: 8). It is widely accepted that those involved need to work together in a coordinated way for the benefit of the family and its members. This chapter will use the term ‘collaboration’ to denote workers working closely together on a particular case in a joined-up way. Collaboration can occur in loosely connected networks of workers who come from different agencies, or a team of workers within a common agency structure with common goals and common decision-making processes
Terence O’Sullivan

7. Remaining Vigilant

Abstract
This chapter concerns the tensions and challenges of workers remaining vigilant towards their own thinking, emotions, actions and behaviour when working with families. You need to read this chapter in conjunction with the following chapter, ‘Supportive Supervision’, as supervision has an extremely important role, among others, in promoting reflexive thinking and self-care within the worker. This chapter concerns self-vigilance which is akin to self-awareness and self-reflectiveness. It overlaps with being self-reflexive, which Chow et al. (2011: 142), drawing from the Chambers English Dictionary, take to mean ‘the action of the mind by which it is conscious of its own operations’. Among other things, such vigilance entails being alert to the various cognitive biases and processes that can get in the way of forming a more accurate understanding of family situations.
Terence O’Sullivan

8. Supportive Supervision

Abstract
Supporting families can be a stressful, complex, challenging and emotionally laden activity, and if practitioners don’t get sufficient support in doing their job they will not be able to support families effectively. Workers that feel unsupported can develop low morale and burnout and may leave their profession or change jobs (Mor Barak et al., 2009: 6). The usual vehicle for practitioners to receive support is through one sort of supervision or another. However, in England and other countries there can be a gap between the rhetoric of providing effective quality supervision and the reality. Only a quarter of the 28 social workers undertaking a post-qualifying childcare award programme at a university in the north-east of England felt satisfied with the supervision they currently received, with a much higher proportion clearly dissatisfied (Turner-Daly and Jack, 2014: 1). When workers don’t receive effective supervision there are likely to be negative consequences for the worker, the families they work with, their collaborative colleagues and the agencies they work for.
Terence O’Sullivan
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