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CU Engagement Across Client Systems Discussion

CU Engagement Across Client Systems Discussion


The Valley Community Center staff explains Competency #6: engage with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities. Staff members share the similarities and differences between engaging with clients at the various levels.In social work, we have to be prepared not only to work one on one with individual clients, but we’ll also work with families, groups, organizations, and communities at large. The first step in social work practice is to engage. So this week, the team is going to walk you through what it means to engage at the various client system levels.

Your listening and report-building skills are crucial in engagement. You start asking open questions, listening with discipline, and really trying to understand what it’s like to be that client. But if the client is a family, a group, or a whole community, there is going to need to be some differing approaches to how you do this compared to an individual client. Let’s see what these varying approaches might look like.

Engaging with an individual is something we’ve done a lot of work around already in motivational interviewing for instance. It’s important to demonstrate that you heard their story and understand their experiences. So for example, I had my first meeting with a new client today. His name is Ray, and he’s been having an issue with his living situation.

I don’t know what to do. I’m trapped in this lease for the next 10 months, and they started construction in my building Monday through Saturday, 7:00 in the morning to 9:00 at night. And it’s indefinite. Apparently, the construction got delayed. And of course, my landlord forgot to notify the new tenants that this would be an issue. I haven’t heard of any timeline, so there’s no end in sight. I work at night. I’m sure you can see how the constant bang, bang, bang starting just hours after I get home would be problematic. And I already have so much trouble sleeping.

You feel frustrated, angry, and powerless to do anything because you’re locked into the lease.

Exactly. It’s driving me nuts. I have to stop myself from screaming out my front door every morning. I’m constantly anxious and irritated. I just don’t see how I’m going to get myself out this situation, and it’s weighing on me.

So Ray can’t afford to break his lease. He’s agitated all the time, and the poor guy hasn’t had a full night’s sleep in months. And I’m also noticing from his already abnormal sleep patterns and his overwhelming sense of helplessness that there might be something deeper making all of this even more difficult for him to deal with. So for now, I’m just noting what I’m seeing so I can explore more next time.

Engaging with a family can be complicated. You have to balance forming a relationship with the individuals of the family and with the family as a whole. And you’re entering a system, a group of people who already have their own set of rules and ways of communicating. So it’s your job to join the family, so to speak. Figure out what the rules of engagement are for these people and what type of communication will make sense to them as a unit.

I met with a local family this afternoon. The mother, McKayla, she lost her job recently, and the family’s struggling to keep afloat. The father, Samuel, is working overtime, but he wants to move the family to the agricultural district where it’s cheaper. And their son, Craig, has his own opinions about that. He’s been acting out, running away, getting into trouble at school, self-harming. Craig, looks like something you want to add.

I only just started making friends here. She wants to move across town. I’m going to have to go to a different school and start over. Like I already hate school. I’m just not going to go to classes. I’ll drop out.

My response in this situation needed to demonstrate and communicate empathy to each family member. So how do we do this? The son, Craig, is feeling a lot. The mother, McKayla, is clearly feeling something very different from Craig, and it’s unclear how the father, Samuel, was feeling. You see the complexity with this? There are many approaches that might be followed here, and there is surely not one right way.

One approach would be to explore the differences between Craig and his mom’s perspective, getting them to verbalize them or maybe asking dad what he just observed in terms of their responses. What does he think is going on? Then we could check it out with Craig and his mom. See how much more complex attending to multiple clients in a family system gets just in this one simple interchange of trying to be empathetic?

Social workers engage with groups for a variety of purposes. Sometimes, the groups are existing, and other times they come into strangers. No matter the type of group, you’ll always need to both engage the group as a whole and engage the series of individuals within the group.

VCC recently put out a notice that we were going to start a psychoeducational group for young single mothers in Valley City. We meet with women from this demographic individually every week. So we thought we’d try having some of them come in together to swap stories, grievances, and ideas.

I met with three of these women today. While each of their experiences are unique, all three are struggling with the demands of caring for their child while maintaining balance in their own life. These women have certain issues in common, but this group at VCC is brand new to each of them.

They don’t have established rules yet like a family does. So part of engaging here will be to establish the norms, rules, and purpose of the group. Then we’ll draw out the commonalities and differences of experience among them.

My daughter’s never met her father. He was a stranger to me, a one-time thing. So yeah, I didn’t see much point in trying to coparent with someone who I didn’t know. But I don’t exactly have the money for child care. So I’m having a really hard time keeping a job. My parents were ashamed of me for getting pregnant. So they weren’t much help in the beginning, but they’re starting to come around only because I’m desperate though.

Wow. I feel for you. I had a similar situation with my parents, but they eventually gave in because I couldn’t afford my rent anymore. I live with them now, and they love my daughter more than anything. They babysit a ton. But they’re so overbearing with her. They try not to let my ex anywhere near her even though I’m still on good terms with him. I hate not being able to decide for myself what’s best for her.

It must be difficult not feeling like you have that autonomy. Laurel, can you tell us about what your situation is like?

Sure. Hi, guys. I guess my situation is a little different. I’m OK financially right now. My job lets me choose my own hours and pays me enough to afford childcare, but so I’m lucky there. But my situation with my ex-husband is uncivil to say the least. We finalized our divorce a month ago, and he already has a new girlfriend. Sorry. This probably sounds so petty and childish.

Not at all. He sounds like a jerk. That can be hard to explain to a child.

It really is. My son started asking me why his dad doesn’t live with us anymore. I don’t know what to tell him. Just tears me apart to see him so sad.

Engagement is where you begin to build a sense of safety and belonging to this common group, a group where they can safely share and to help one another. The more they contribute to the group, the more they’re engaging. Seems like we’re already off to a great start.

I met a young man named Ramon. He’s been the caretaker for his elderly grandparents for several years as his family can’t afford to put them in a nursing home. Ramon, I know you have an elderly set of grandparents. Tell me a little bit about it.

Well, I love helping my grandparents out. I don’t mind running errands for them and bringing them meals. But I had to start a second job, and now I’m working six days a week. And also, we have other elderly folks in our neighborhood who don’t actually have someone like me for them. Lots of them live alone too.

Speaking with Ramon about the elderly in his neighborhood got me thinking this was an issue that needs to be solved within the community rather than at VCC. Of course, because I don’t live in the community, I’m coming in as an outsider. That’s just part of the deal when you’re engaging with organizations, families, and groups that you’re not a member. I asked Ramon to help me identify key shareholders who represent many facets of this community.

So what’s next? I can either engage the shareholders in a series of individual meetings or in a group meeting. I’ll probably start with some individual meetings where I’ll have the same issues of engaging as with individuals– listening, being authentic, responding empathically about the community as its needs are expressed by the shareholder.

And I’ll make the offer to travel to them rather than having them come here to show my willingness to engage in their community. Then maybe I’ll bring the shareholders together at some point. I think with a little organization, there is an opportunity here to follow Ramon’s example and help this community take care of each other.

Just like the VCC team, you’ll need to use empathy, reflection, and interpersonal skills to navigate engaging these different systems. After engaging though, we’ll be moving on to the next phase– assessing. But that’s a story for next week. Onward.

Now that you know about Competency #6: engage with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities, take some time to connect the details of the competency with your own life and your own practice.

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