Connecting beyond diagnosis. A social worker’s approach to supporting families.

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March 16, 2017
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April 19, 2017

I am the social worker in a specialist tertiary health unit which assesses developmental delay and disability.  My role is to provide support to families through the emotional and planning processes involved in assessment and receipt of a diagnosis for their child.  I try to hold balance between emotional support and information provision, starting with their engagement with early childhood intervention services, and then moving toward discussions about family well-being.

It is a part time role, which means I need to work efficiently if I am to reach every family coming through the diagnostic service.  In order to offer a consistent social work service I created a checklist (pictured) for myself to ensure every family has equal access to information and supportive resources.  Often parents will shrug and say something like ‘I just don’t know what I don’t know’, and in these circumstances it is up to me to open up their access to services and ensure good connections are made.

Checklist Item: Family support


Personal support is not often the first thing on a parent’s mind, and often at the time of diagnosis it is seen to take away resources from the child.  Understandably parents are busy, often financially limited, and focused on everything going into supporting the child.  However, I speak to all families of the benefits of witnessing what personal support can do, and how it can open their world and that of their child’s.  If they can attend just one parent group or one supported playgroup where they can share and hear stories, then they are allowed entry into a world of care, encouragement, contrasting and motivating ideas.  One parent told me that the online community suits her better, but that she only discovered the online blogs after another parent at the face-to-face group told her about it.  With each suggestion I try to weave in how a parent can critique the service, to ensure the strength and advocacy in caring for their child sits with them.

Some families are already very involved in the early childhood intervention sector, but there is always opportunity to discuss how they might reflect on their plan.  My checklist reminds me of what conversational paths to go down, and what direct service options can be offered.  I believe strongly that each family should have information about a cross section of services including mainstream services, early childhood intervention, online information, community, and private options.  This follows principles of self determination, empowerment and inclusion of children and their parents/carers.  My focus on the family is at the heart of social work, where the well-being and inclusion of the child is intertwined with the well-being and inclusion of the family.

Early childhood intervention can look different for every child, but the important factor is that there is a community of people working to support this child’s growth.  I am interested to explore what growth and development means for each family, how this matches with what the child needs and what services can offer. But in these broader exploratory conversations, there’s always space for a checklist to keep things focused and consistent too.

Jessica McCallum is a social worker accredited with the Australian Association of Social work.  She worked for 7 years in various child protection roles within FaCS before transferring to the Health sector, the Disability Specialist Unit. She has completed further studies, a Masters of Couple and Family Therapy, and brings this area of theory and research into her work too.  Each role has allowed space for critical thinking and action on how people can best be included in their families and communities.

Catalina Voroneanu
Catalina Voroneanu
Inclusion Program Coordinator

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