Search This Blog

Saturday, December 14, 2013

When it happens in your own family

A couple of recent discussions with social workers reminds me that, despite our profession, it is possible to have family become involved with child protection systems (CPS). This is a cause for embarrassment if colleagues become aware of the family connection. However, there is also the need to find a way to deal with this reality. In my discussions, a few themes came out strongly.

1. Being a family member means you are not the professional - no matter how much experience you have, you cannot be the family advisor on a child protection case. You will not know the case or the reasons why CPS is involved and why they are taking the actions that they are. Thus, you are a family member and not a social worker.

2. That being said, you can then act as a family member offering appropriate support.

3. As a social worker, we often learn to turn our emotions down. We keep a degree of professional detachment. When we start to see the "facts" of a case, that turns on. What we need to turn on is our personal emotions that allow us to be a member of a family.

4. We are not the confidant of the social work professionals who may turn to us to act as a go between - after all, they might say, we understand what needs to be done - could we explain it to the family? Well no, we can't. That places us in an untenable position of walking a bridge between the social workers and the family. It's not our role.

5. We are also therefore, not the advocates for the family. The best advocates are those who are not in the family system. Therefore, you should not be attending meetings in such a role.

6. We also need boundaries. We tell our clients this all the time - this is a point in which to heed our own advice.

7. Trying to be a social worker in your own family system means that you are likely to alienate colleagues and family members alike.

There are things you can do. You can be a family member who supports, acts as a shoulder to lean on if appropriate and listen. You can use your skills at reflective listening to help family members process. You can also point people to the sorts of resources that can professionally assist. Most importantly, you can also feel. There may be other ideas but knowing when to step back from the social work role with your own family system is important.


  1. This is an interesting piece of writing which I agree with. Don’t take your home to work or your work to home in a sense. Although I feel that it would be hard given the situation not to go into social work mode and follow procedure. Advice give to use listen skills and give advice on other professional agencies that can help assist family members is good. Showing moral support and emotions are important when it comes to your own family members as they do not see you as your profession. .

  2. Oh Peter, I do like your words. I struggle with the reality of the system vs. realities of families. But you are right, boundaries are so important in all the domains that we walk professionally and personalty.

  3. Excellent stuff once again, Peter!