Working systemically as a social worker involves working collaboratively with a family to understand their family system, as well as the systems that impact upon them. Through my training with Frontline, this approach has become embedded in my practice and the relationships I build with families are enriched as a result. By always putting families at the centre and entering situations with curiosity and looking at things from their perspective, I can support them to make changes for themselves rather than imposing change upon them.
One family I began working with this year had been involved with social services since their first child was born 15 years ago. Their five children experienced persistent issues of neglect with poor home conditions, low attendance at school and regular doctor’s appointments. One of the oldest children’s behaviour had become unmanageable. There had been very little change in the situation over that 15 years and mum had resisted engaging with previous social workers and other professionals.
I wanted to explore mum’s own life experiences, which could be affecting her behaviour. We started by mapping out her important relationships. I handed over a pen and paper, encouraging her to express herself and her story as she saw it. That’s where we started our relationship, with me letting mum know that she’s in control and together we will find a way to move forward. From our conversations I learnt that in the past no one had spent time with mum to recognise the obstacles that were in the way of her making change and ways these could be overcome. This is like sticking a plaster over a gaping wound without anyone cleaning it out or stitching it up. To work towards a more positive pattern of behaviour, mum and I started to look into the future and do some goal setting in order to focus on what change could look like and the impact this would have on the children. This was very motivating for the mum and became a turning point for the family.
Another important aspect of my systemic approach was challenging the negative narrative about mum from professionals that she would never be able to change. After I worked with mum on effective communication, she told her children’s teacher that the pessimism shown by the professionals around her felt like a kick in the teeth. This honesty allowed for a more open dialogue and for trust to gradually build between the family and professionals. Mum’s view of her professional network changed from a group that she deeply mistrusted to one that wanted to help her and that she could utilise when she needed support.
This was transformative for the family. With the help of professional services, mum can now maintain a safe home environment, the children can manage their emotions more effectively, they no longer get stomach bugs because the house is not clean and are not bullied for going to school with dirty clothes. Mum is so much more confident and her relationships with the professionals around her have improved massively. Even more importantly, she now trusts herself and believes that things will get better.
By coming alongside this family and working with them systemically, I was able to empower the family so that they could create fundamental and positive change within their own lives. This is why systemic practice is at the heart of all of Frontline’s programmes.
To find out more about systemic theory and practice, check out this blog from one of our Practice Tutors, Cleo.