In recent years, the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services (MOLSA) has promoted a policy of family-centered intervention, and is working to establish the role of Family Social Worker (FSW) as the central professional on the staff of local Social Service Departments (SSDs). This development coincides with MOLSA adopting the paradigm of Poverty-Aware Social Work, which sees poverty as a violation of human rights and believes that the role of the social worker is to stand alongside people living in poverty, the service recipients, to resist this violation.
In 2019 MOLSA’s Service of Family and Children’s Welfare asked the Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute to conduct a process of Learning from Success based on the work and experience of FSWs, with the intention that the new knowledge produced advance the professional development of FSWs.
The Retrospective Method of Learning from Success was used. With the help of semi-structured interviews, this method identifies and documents success stories to extract the tacit professional knowledge in the system and formulate it in explicit, action-oriented terms. The interviews were conducted between January-May 2020 at four SSDs. In total, eight success stories of FSWs working with families living in poverty were documented. The stories are based on interviews with eight FSWs, and two additional social workers who were involved in the stories. The report presents all eight stories anonymously, told from the perspective of the FSWs, and emphasizing the family at the center of the intervention and the FSW as the central professional in the process.
Action Principles Extracted from the Success Stories
Seventeen common action principles were identified that contributed to the families’ success. These can be divided into four categories: 1) building trust between the social worker and the family; 2) listening to, and involving, the family in decision-making; 3) inclusiveness of the family in treatment; and 4) general principles of action.
Summary and Discussion
The principles of action extracted from the success stories correspond to the principles of poverty-aware social work, a new paradigm promoted by MOLSA in its work with families at the SSDs. Mostly, the stories express the importance of knowledge gained from up close, the recognition that society harbors a wide range of typological knowledge, and that every type merits respect, including that of people living in poverty. This knowledge is often acquired through the close relationships established by FSWs with the families they support. Another important principle to emerge was the development of solidarity with service recipients and standing alongside them in the struggle against poverty.
The principles of action also illustrate the basic assumptions of family social work. For example, the principle that the family is at the center of the intervention is prominent in all the stories of success that were documented, as is the principle of a beneficial relationship: The aspiration and indeed achievement of the FSWs interviewed. These successes were especially meaningful given the considerable distrust expressed by the families who were recipients of social services at the start of the intervention, and the change that occurred as it progressed.