VALUING FAMILIES – SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE WITH FAMILIES FROM A STRENGTH PERSPECTIVE.
Social work practitioners work with problems of individuals and groups and organizations, where the demands often require finding sustainable and effective solution. Practitioners may indulge in a variety of methodologies but objective continues to remain solution focused. Most people who suffer from ailments often feel as if they are victim of situations and fail to look within their own resources for solution. It is at this moment that we need to highlight people’s strength to derive a solution for their persisting problem.
The Strengths Approach
A strengths based approach operates on the assumption that people have strengths and resources for their own empowerment. Traditional teaching and professional development models concentrates on deficit based approaches, ignoring the strengths and experiences of the participants. In strength based approach the focus is on the individual not the content. Drawing on appreciative inquiry, strengths based methodologies do not ignore problems. Instead they shift the frame of reference to define the issues. By focusing on what is working well, informed successful strategies support the adaptive growth of organizations and individuals.
The strength perspective recognizes that for the most part of life, people face adversity, become resilient and resourceful and learn new strategies to overcome adversity. It would be pertinent to consider resilience in the context of strength perspective as the opportunity and capacity of individuals to navigate their way to psychological, social, cultural, and physical resources that may pull together during crisis and provide them an opportunity and capacity individually and collectively to negotiate for life following adversity in appropriate and culturally meaningful ways. Thus using clients personal strengths and in discovering resources in the environments to fulfil the client’s needs and to enhance the client resilience. In fact the environment is conceptualizes as “the helping environment”, in a strengths based practice.
Building family values through strength
It is necessary that solutions are derived by building on family’s strength and intrinsic motivation rendered to meet the needs and reach the goals. The family goals generally are a combination of the individual goals of the head of the family and that of the common good. The social work practitioner has to realize these minute aspects while getting into consultation with their client. It all begins with the conversation between the two wherein the practitioner asks ‘door-opening’ questions which has the capacity to clear the air and provide more details for further analysis of the final goal (Early & GlenMate 2000).
There can be a wide spectrum other turbulent situations that can often dislodge the functioning of this first social unit called ‘family’. These can range from violent outburst by a young Son, woes of single parenting, a pampered daughter of a busy employed couple, a drunkard father in constant violent act against the lady of the house, rising expectations of siblings due to peer pressure. The challenges for the social work practitioner is not just about identifying the problem and rendering immediate solutions but to study in-depth the cause and effects of the problems, identify the reason behind such a situation and provide a sustained solution. It is often observed that each of the members of a family have their own innate strengths which has been submerged in the ‘flooding waters’ of the prevalent problems. It is only these subdued strengths that have the long term solution to the problems and which may look very superficial when solved.
Strength Approach Grooms Individuals
Children growing up in different environment are subjected to different exposure and experiences and hence have different levels of understanding, priorities, confidence and attitudes which can create difficulties when brought under the one roof. Often, children coming from diverse backgrounds may not be able to gel well among each other when put together. The case is even difficult when a child comes from a under privileged section both in terms of societal norms and economic criteria. For example; the child oneself and the social worker practitioner is a mere facilitator. It is also evident that there can be no prescribed format for tackling a problem of any kind and that even visibly similar problem may have different approaches to deal with as the individuals in each case will be different bestowed with their unique strengths.
According to Powell, & Batsche, (1997), a strength-based philosophy is a critical belief; an all-pervasive attitude that informs a professional’s interactions with clients. Ideally, an entire agency will adopt the approach, and, through ongoing training, this attitude-change will occur in all staff, transforming the way they view their work, their colleagues, and subsequently, the people and communities they work with. Strength in an individual, group or organisation will generate the resources to tackle the problem and the social work practitioner has to play the role of a facilitator to identify the skills, interest and support system that enable desirable results. There is little doubt that there is need for more research and further evaluations of the strength-bases approach as specifics of qualitative and quantitative efficacy of the evaluations are yet to be accurately projected. However, the paradigm shift in visualizing a problem by the social work practitioner could well be a positive impact on the process of treatment and rehabilitation of the subject under the scanner (Krabbenborg, Boersma, & Wolf, 2013) and (Barwick, 2004)
Principles that are the heart of working from a strengths perspective with families.
· Staff and Families Work together in relationship based on equality and respect. Participants are a vital resource.
· Staff enhance families’ capacity to support the growth and development of all family members: adults, youth and children.
· Programs affirm and strengthen families’ cultural, racial and linguistic identities and enhance their ability to function in a multicultural society.
· Programs are embedded in their communities and contribute to the community- building process.
· Programs advocate with families for services and systems that are fair, responsive, and accountable to the families served.
· Practitioners work with families to mobilize formal and informal resources to support family development.
· Programs are flexible and continually responsive to emerging family and community issues.
· Principles of family support are modeled in all program activities, including planning, governance, and administration.
The family support field, like most others in the human services, has faced increasing pressure for accountability over this last decade. According to the Harvard Family Research Project, probably the major source of knowledge for the family support field, two other major assessment project are underway: the National Family Support Mapping Project and the Promotional Indicators Project. The former is an effort to locate and collect information on every family support program in the country and to create a comprehensive national database that would answer ‘simple but important questions: How many family support programs are there? What families are they serving? What are the services and programs being offered? What are the funding sources for these programs?’’ The latter project will develop indicators for measuring family strength and capacities, instead of using deficit-based indicators that measure the negative aspects of families.
It is to be hoped that with all of this assessment activity, the family support field, perhaps working in collaboration with social work organisations, can form a viable lobby for social and economic policies that support families and children. A recent finding with dire implications for children’s well-being is that mothers participating in the welfare-to-work programs of the last several years display twice the rate of clinical depression- two mothers in every five-compared to the general population. According to these researchers. ‘Maternal depression sharply depresses their young children’s development’.
Opportunities for participation and contribution in Families.
In families, the protective factors of participation and contribution depend on parents being able to provide children with both responsibility and autonomy. The degree to which a child experiences either must be developmentally appropriate but also, researchers are finding, sensitive to conditions in the child’s particular environment. While being able to contribute by having valued responsibilities and roles within the 2wfamily has not been a focus of research attention this last decade, historically it has been associated with positive developmental (including health) outcomes for youth (and adults) and good parenting. Youth people’s opportunities to participate in the family are often tied to parenting styles, and especially parents granting of autonomy. Parents who create opportunities for their children and adolescents to have some decision-making power and to solve problems on their own help meet their mother’s basic need for psychological autonomy. Likewise parents who listen to their children as people deserving respect and attention grant them psychological autonomy.
According to Steinberg, ‘Psychological autonomy-granting functions much like warmth as a general protective factor, but seems to have special benefits as a protection against anxiety, depression, and other forms of internalized distress’. Eccles et al, also found ‘positive associations between the extent of the adolescents’ participation and positive self-esteem’’. The gradual granting of autonomy experiences (or opportunities for participation) and the need to balance autonomy with guidance and control is perhaps the most challenging aspects of parenting, especially during the adolescent years when the biological need for autonomy asserts itself as a primary drive. As prominent adolescent researchers have written, ‘it is not easy for parents to determine the optimal level of autonomy versus control for their children at all ages. One would predict strained relationships whether there is a poor fit between the child’s desire for increasing autonomy and the opportunities for independence and autonomy provided by the child’s parent
Parents whose efforts, however imperfect, are at least on the continuum of granting their children appropriate psychological (and behavioral) autonomy stand in sharp contrast to parents who wield psychological control. Psychological control appears to be a particularly destructive way not to grant psychological control. This last decade has witnessed a burgeoning of interest, led by Brian Barber and his colleagues, in the concept of parental psychological control. In characterizing parental psychological control as a violation of the child’s psychological self, these researchers point to terms in the literature, including manipulative, constraining, guilt-inducing, love withdrawal, anxiety-instilling, possessive, dominant, and enmeshing, that refer to psychological control.
At the core of caring relationships are clear and positive person-centred expectation. Clear expectations refer to the guidance and regulatory function that caregivers must provide developing young people. This means creating a sense of structure and safety through rules and disciplinary approaches that are not only perceived as fair by young people but that include youth in their creation. Positive person-centres messages are those that communicate the caregiver’s deep belief in the person’s natural resilience and self-righting capacities and challenge the person to become all she can be.
In all of these ways, having the opportunities to be heard, to voice one’s option, to make choices, to make choices, to have responsibilities, to engage in active problem solving, to express one’s imagination, to work with and help others, and to give one’s gift back to the community- people develop the attitudes and competencies characteristic of healthy development ad successful learning; social competence, problem-solving, a positive sense of self and a sense of purpose and future. This is the final component of the protective process that connects people young and old to themselves and to their families, schools and communities.
Barwich, H. (2004). Young Males: Strength-based and Male-focused Approaches, A review of the Research and Best Evidence. New Zeal: Ministry of Youth Development.
Early, T.J, & GlenMaye, L.F. (2004). Valuing Families: Social Work Practice with families from a Strength Perspective. Social work, 45(2), 118-130.
Powell, D.S. & Batsche, C.J. (1997). A strength-based approach in support of multi-risk families: Principles and issues. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, Pp 17, 1.