Developing Strong Helping Alliances in Family Reunification

Journal of Public Child Welfare 12/2009; 3(4):331-353. DOI: 10.1080/15548730903347812


The development of positive working relationships with clients has been a hallmark of the social work profession since its inception. More recently there has been a resurgence of interest in both measuring the dimensions of the working relationships and the processes through which these relationships are formed. This article reports findings on working relationships from a comprehensive evaluation of a family reunification program that used multiple approaches to study these relationships. These overlapping findings are discussed in the context of program elements that fostered engagement and the maintenance of positive working relationships between clients and staff.

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    ABSTRACT: Child welfare systems have struggled to create innovative, culturally sensitive programmes to address the multiple and pervasive barriers that exist in engaging child welfare parent clients in their service plans. Peer mentor programmes—those in which parents who have successfully navigated the child welfare system and reunified with their children, mentor parents newly entering the system—are designed to address some of these barriers, to improve reunification outcomes. Focus groups with parent clients (n = 25) and interviews with peer mentors (n = 6) were conducted to identify the characteristics of peer mentoring programmes that are critically helpful to parent clients, as well as the mechanisms that allow peer mentors to be effective in their work. The qualitative analysis uncovered three general themes to which both parents and peer mentors frequently referred in interviews—the value of shared experiences, communication and support. Additionally, the study found that peer mentorship has positive effects not only on parent clients but also on the mentors themselves. The inclusion of peer mentors in child welfare practice suggests an important paradigm shift within child welfare that could lead to culture change for the field.
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