Friday, March 26, 2010

Understanding the past

I wonder how people work when I discover that they know very little about past experiences of clients. Recently I was talking to a Social Worker from Families SA and while he was an engaging person and cared greatly about the profession and how he worked I found it interesting that he knew very little of the clients past. To understand a clients present situation, how they are choosing at this time to respond to their world, and the emotional attachment they have to events of the past seems to be a primary concern to me. To fail to understand this often leaves the client feeling misunderstood, isolated and alone.

A client recently discussed with me some horrific events as a child. As she was telling me the story I became quite emotional. It was as if I could see the events unfolding before me. What she experienced was traumatic, abusive in the extreme. Through this story and others I was able to understand how she experienced her life and why anger, disappointment, frustration, resentment and abandonment sit in her life. How can we truly empathise if we fail to hear the stories and relate those stories to the way the client is interacting with the “now”? How can the client feel understood and trusting if they are not understood in this way?

What evolves from this level of understanding is a sense of partnership and dedication which is an important aspect of the therapeutic process. In relation to child protection and the partnership which is suppose to be developed between workers and the parent it is imperative that the client is heard and the worker understands the complexities of the clients lives and the reasons why the client may choose to respond in aggressive or unhelpful ways.

My experience working with Social Workers from child protection services is that they are so locked into the notion that the client is the child and that they are working towards the best interest of the child that they fail to see the whole picture which excludes the parents. Ironically this means that they also fail to see the impact and trauma created by the child being in care. This form of ignorance creates an environment of mistrust and fear.

To acknowledge the trauma, past and present, and to find pathways to understanding this is working in the best interest of the children. To assist parents to understand their own past and the impact this has had on their children is powerful. Unfortunately though this is often handballed to other professionals because it is not considered to be the role of child protection workers. Yet it should be a fundamental role of all child protection workers.

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