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Enabling is better described as the therapist
improving the situation by appearing to fix the problem without true
involvement of the client. Effective empowerment relies a great deal on appropriate
and accurate assessment of the entire problem or issue. Enabling often results
due to an inaccurate assessment which leads to the temporary fixing
of a problem that was identified inappropriately. Often times, social workers
fix problems the client never identified.
Washing Machine: Enable or Empower?
The mother and step-father were invited but were not present at
the meeting. The young boy was also absent from the meeting. The meeting was to
focus on transitioning the young boy from a special needs school into a regular
Another added that the boy had told her, they were washing clothing in the bathtub. Before too long, the plan began to include buying a washing machine for the family. After discussion, someone directed a question to the social and rehabilitation social worker. The question went something like this, Cant SRS try to find a way to purchase a washing machine for them? The workers response was one filled with frustration.
She pointed out that the family had already received assistance in paying the deposit for a house rental, monthly rent, had received financial aid in paying back energy bills, and finally that she didnt think the washing machine was an option. She also pointed out that there was a laundromat a few miles away and that a relative had offered the family access to their washing machine.
Some in the group heard the workers
response but others continued to argue the importance of a washing machine. If
its right there, theyll be more likely to use it, was a comment
overheard several times in the discussion.
Boundaries Set by Values: In this first scenario, it was believed the washer would somehow change the boy and his familys perspective on cleanliness. The reality is that the family did not value clean clothes or maintaining clean bodies. Plus, the familys absence from the meeting truly stated the amount of investment the family had in the interventions. Their absence should have halted any decisions on intervention. Many services and interventions were provided, but it appears there is little to no investment from the family.
Attendance during the past three semesters had not improved. This particular meeting had been scheduled to discuss attendance and the current intervention plan. In this meeting, the social worker stated she didnt feel she should continue going to the students home and bringing her to school as the intervention was not effective. The group was not in favor of addressing the truancy issue through the legal system and verbalized that the social worker needed to continue picking up the student if her attendance was dependant upon this service. The social worker left the meeting with no new plan of intervention.
The Boundary of Responsibility: In this second example, the team failed to accept that the current plan of intervention was not resulting in success, and the team was unwilling to reassess the situation to create a new intervention. Unfortunately, the girl continued to miss school and rely on the social worker to pick her up and bring her to school. Neither the teenage girl, nor her parents, ever assumed responsibility for getting her to school. No improvement was noted.
C. Get a Job!
During an initial intake, income was addressed and the mother shared that the family survived off a social security disability check received for the youngest boy. He was diagnosed with ADHD and depression and had received disability moneys for three years. Historically, neither parent qualified for disability moneys. The mother had been diagnosed with depression but was not involved in treatment. Their house was inherited from a relative, and they paid no rent.
They were behind in taxes, owed the local convenience
store several hundred dollars, and were being threatened by the power company
to have their power shut off. The family did have a prepaid cellular phone and
appeared to keep this service paid. The family also owned two working vehicles.
Involvement Boundaries: This next example focused on parents assessment of their children. The interventions put in place failed to involve the young boys in the planning phase. The result was a lack of empowerment for the boys to assume responsibility for their actions and personal changes. Their feelings were expressed clearly in a follow-up meeting.
They expressed frustration that the parents contributed no income and wondered why they, the boys, should pay for bills accrued by their parents. They also asked why the parents hadnt been included in the goal of employment. The boys had responded to the situation by defying their parents with more extreme behaviors. The initial assessment did not include the appropriate people or an accurate account of the total perceived needs in the home.
D. Willful Disobedience
Meetings included teachers, the principal, the school nurse, the school social worker, probation officer, and the area social services social worker. The young man was offered new clothing, the opportunity to shower at school, the opportunity to participate in a peer advocacy program and many opportunities for after school tutoring. However, even with interventions throughout the year, the boy was suspended several times for various reasons. Finally, the young man was expelled from school for the final quarter due to an act of willful disobedience.
On this occasion, he refused to change his shirt that featured a
marijuana leaf on it. The staff of the school deemed this shirt inappropriate,
and a decision was made that he could not remain in school without changing the
shirt. The young man appeared nonresponsive to the expulsion. A 14-year-old boy
was out of school with no options for acquiring an education.
If the answer is, No,
please proceed with caution. I would encourage the practitioner to reassess the
situation and make sure the problem is accurately defined from the clients
perspective. It will improve the likelihood of success for the client as they
will feel empowered, and the worker will not carry the load. Empowerment is perhaps
one of the most powerful practicing concepts in being effective as a social worker.
Good luck in assessing for opportunities to empower.
Reflection Exercise #1
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Russinova, Z., Gidugu, V., Bloch, P., Restrepo-Toro, M., & Rogers, E. S. (2018). Empowering individuals with psychiatric disabilities to work: Results of a randomized trial. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 41(3), 196–207.
Wallis, H., Bamberg, S., Schulte, M., & Matthies, E. (2021). Empowering people to act for a better life for all: Psychology’s contributions to a social science for sustainability. European Psychologist, 26(3), 184–194.
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