Relationship based social work theory and autism

relationship based social work theory and autism

What is the theory behind relationship-based social work, and what does it actually mean to place 'the relationship' at the heart of practice?. Master of Social Work (MSW) program to correctly identify signs of autism in children by completing a survey. . Theories Guiding Conceptualization. .. what needs improvement in relation to education of autism. The data reflected a. In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in social work social workers' capacity to truly accommodate person-centred theory.

Grant has referred to this in the person-centred field as working only with what is given with regard to empathically responding to the service user.

Danielle Turney on Relationship-Based Social Work

Consider, for example, the following situation in which a social worker makes a home visit in response to reports that a seven-year-old child is potentially at risk. The social worker needs to speak to the mother who is alleged to be feeling suicidal.

The social worker begins by developing and building rapport and then asks the mother about her current suicidal intent and the mother states her intent is low, although her ideation is high. The mother feels ashamed at having to disclose these thoughts and feelings to the social worker and subsequently averts her gaze and fixes eye contact to another part of the room.

The social worker presses on with asking more questions about the service user's thoughts over the last two weeks and whether she has the means by which to commit suicide.

She asks the mother to complete a simple suicide risk assessment form. The mother completes the measure and hands it back to the social worker. The social worker is sensitive but feels satisfied that, whilst the mother is probably depressed, she is not suicidal. The social worker returns to the office.

Relationship-Based Social Work, Second Edition

There is a task to be completed and the relationship provides the context in which to carry out the more important social work task of assessing the level of risk of the mother's mental state for both herself and to the child.

More importantly, the content, process and nature of the interactions are provoked by the questioning of the social worker. What is given by the client from the stance of being in a principled non-directive relationship is not considered.

The social worker is, understandably, focused on completing the task. In short, it is apparent that person-centred theoretical constructs have little or even no place within the contemporary models of relationship-based social work practice.

In the example above, the social worker might need to make more of the situation and disregard what the service user had given in her communication due to the need to complete the assessment.

The same argument applies to relationship-based practices that have their roots in the social casework model Mayer and Timms, For example, Trevethick proposes a relational approach based on a psycho-social model of social work practice and argues that the relationship acts as the basis upon which the tasks of intervention can be carried out. Trevethick's approach stands in contrast to the person-centred principled model that considers the relationship as an end in itself.

In considering such models of relationship-based practice, Trevethick critically states that: Others have argued for a relationship-based approach grounded in models of empowerment. Braye and Preston-Shoot have argued that the cornerstone of relationships between users and providers of services are the principles of empowerment and partnership.

In order to understand how these principles are able to bring to fruition their potential, practitioners must also consider their application from the perspective of power, inequality and oppression.

They need to consider and attempt to apply both personal and organisational commitments to challenging and changing the oppressive practices that maintain inequalities for service users. The concept of a relationship-based approach to social care work remains a contentious issue for policy makers.

Henderson and Forbat noted that, whilst the emotional and relational aspects are significant features of current constructions of what it means to provide care, these have been virtually invisible within policy strategies. Despite this, some empirical research has focused on the association of the quality of the relationship between the user and provider of a service with the outcome of the service being provided.

relationship based social work theory and autism

For example, service users in mandated child abuse cases who perceived the relationships with a social worker as more positive were more likely to show constructive changes with regard to subsequent discipline and emotional care for their child. An ability to openly communicate, frequency of visits and receipt of public assistance were significant predictors of better-quality relationships. To clarify the role of the instrumental relationship further, let us go back to the scenario above in which the social worker had received a message via a school that a child's mother had been reported to be suicidal and there was a concern for the risk to the child's well-being in being in the home alone with her mother.

relationship based social work theory and autism

The social worker called to the house is going with a specific task that needs to be accomplished. In such a situation, the social worker holds the power and sets the agenda.

relationship based social work theory and autism

In this sense, the interaction is a directive encounter and cannot therefore be considered to be enabling the service user mother to actualise her potential.

Rightly, the social worker considers all the legal, ethical and moral implications of the situation in making her decision.

‘The state of social work knowledge on autism must improve – the law requires it’

The social worker knows this event occurred after the mother had minimised her feelings of self-harming to the GP earlier that day. The social worker faces another dilemma and uses her relational approach to understand the situation.


She feels the service user is using the situation to gain attention and offers her interpretation to try and bring some further awareness for the service user to the situation. The service user reacts angrily. The child is taken to a relative for the night and a call is made to the local emergency psychiatric clinic for a further assessment to be made.

The service user—social worker relationship was concluded by Bell to have had a positive influence in children involved in child protection investigations. Many service users reported substantial benefits of the relationship with their social worker, including positive changes at home, school and overall health and behaviour.

Despite this, Bell cautions that children should not be seen as a homogenous group and that, whilst it is necessary to protect the rights of children through positive working relationships, a child's experience must be understood from a child's perspective and not that of an adult. Much like the example above, whether the outcomes might be viewed as positive is as much a factor of the perspective from which they are determined as it is about the information collected to record the outcome itself.

As we have indicated above, the person-centred approach is founded upon a conceptual framework that is at odds with contemporary social work practice. But the majority of social workers working outside of specialist autism teams need and deserve much more face-to-face training and support to develop skills in applying theoretical knowledge to the actual scenarios they are working with day to day.

This was always legally dubious but the Care Act has made it even clearer by creating a unified assessment and eligibility system for all client groups and setting a low threshold for triggering the requirement to assess. Some councils solve the legal problem by using generic adult social care teams. However assessors on these teams are even less likely to be able to access the specialist training those assessing autistic adults are now required to have.

relationship based social work theory and autism

Without access to specialist training, understandably many social workers fall back on the sources of knowledge available to them, such as having supported autistic clients previously or having an autistic family member. The trouble with this is that, as Dr Stephen Shore said: This sort of personal experience is no substitute for knowledge drawn from the research evidence base and the collective knowledge of the adult autistic community. Sooner rather than later councils need to change their learning and development commissioning to reflect the new legal requirements.

So a kind of vicious circle can be set up where it is easier and less stressful to concentrate on completing forms and managing systems than it is to keep on trying to make the space and develop the skills for focused relationship-based work, and those skills in turn become increasingly hard to hang on to.

A lot can depend on the organisational context within which practitioners are working and whether relationship-based work is supported and valued or seen as a possibly useful but dispensable aspect of practice. It is important to recognise that, while working in and with relationships can be immensely rewarding and positive, it is also potentially time consuming, demanding and emotionally challenging.

Danielle Turney on Relationship-Based Social Work - JKP Blog

So if we are to take seriously a commitment to this kind of practice, we need to ensure that practitioners are both adequately trained and supported. One of the themes of the book is the critical importance of reflective, case-based supervision and I think all the authors would identify this as a necessary component of effective relationship-based work. Service users have identified a number of things that they value in terms of their contact with practitioners and that contribute to a good relationship; these include: Interestingly, it is not always essential that service user and social worker agree though that may certainly make it easier to achieve whatever outcomes have been identified!

relationship based social work theory and autism