how social workers make a difference for young persons

Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at http://www.tandfonline.com/action/journalInformation?journalCode=rasw20

Download by: [Walden University] Date: 30 July 2016, At: 13:53

Australian Social Work

ISSN: 0312-407X (Print) 1447-0748 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rasw20

Centrelink: how social workers make a difference for young persons. A model of intervention

Jane Squires & Natasa Kramaric-Trojak

To cite this article: Jane Squires & Natasa Kramaric-Trojak (2003) Centrelink: how social workers make a difference for young persons. A model of intervention, Australian Social Work, 56:4, 293-304

To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1447-0748.2003.00092.x

Published online: 14 Oct 2010.

Submit your article to this journal

Article views: 2096

View related articles

Citing articles: 5 View citing articles

 

 

Keywords brief casework, social work skills and

interventions, young persons.

Introduction Social workers at Centrelink fulfil a number of roles. Their primary role is the provision of

casework services with a broad range of clients in need of support, as well as consultation to customer service officers, working in partnership with community agencies and involvement in managerial functions. According to Centrelink’s social work information system, a large proportion of social workers’ caseload and referrals is focused on mandatory assessment of young persons under 18 years of age who apply for the ‘Unreasonable to Live at Home’ rate of Youth Allowance. This rate is based on meeting the criteria of independence because of extenuating circumstances within the parental home.

Australian Social Work/December 2003, Vol. 56, No. 4 293

Centrelink: how social workers make a difference for young persons. A model of intervention Jane Squires and Natasa Kramaric-Trojak

It is mandatory for social workers at Centrelink to interview and assess under 18-year-old youth who are applying for the ‘Unreasonable to Live at Home’ (UTLAH) rate of Youth Allowance. The aims of this research project were to identify and describe social work models of intervention when interviewing young persons who applied for UTLAH payments and to examine the way in which social workers developed a response to organisational and legislative changes. The qualitative research consisted of two components: field observations of social work interviews with claimants and an open-ended questionnaire completed by social workers after the observed interaction. The research confirmed the hypothesis that parts of a number of social work interventions could be combined and used to effectively assess and assist clients within the prescribed short-term approach. In addition, it supported the researchers’ belief that social work models of intervention could be adapted to organisational and environmental changes. A potential challenge for social workers at Centrelink is to produce a brief social work model of intervention that is flexible enough to be used by professionals across sectors.

Jane Squires works as an Out of Home Care Casewroker at the Department of Community Services in the Hunter area. Email: Jane.Squires@community.nsw.gov.au Natasa Kramaric-Trojak works as a Social Worker at Centrelink in the Hunter area. Email: natasa.kramaric-trojak@centrelink.gov.au

D ow

nl oa

de d

by [

W al

de n

U ni

ve rs

ity ]

at 1

3: 53

3 0

Ju ly

2 01

6

 

 

The assessment of under 18-year-old UTLAH claims encompasses an interview with the young person, followed by telephone contact with each parent and a third party to establish a broader understanding of the client’s home situation and well-being. Interviews, which are one component of this assessment, are often carried out in a single session which generally lasts up to one hour. Within this hour it is essential that workers assess clients’ social and personal circumstances against an expansive eligibility criteria, as well as to provide emotional support, offer family mediation or reconciliation and referral to other agencies relevant to the clients’ needs. Referrals are often made for services that can provide specialised assistance around issues of accommodation, counselling, child protection, employment, education, mental health and substance abuse. This research was focused on identifying and describing social work interventions used during the client interview stage.

Literature review The requirement to fit a large amount of work into a short time frame, according to Sach and Newdon (1999), supports the wide spread push for economically focused ideals that promote efficiency. Agencies are pressured to work more quickly, with reduced staff and resources and to deliver services at the lowest practicable cost in order to be financially viable (Rowlands 2000). The joint issues of accuracy and accountability have become a high priority in many agencies,

including Centrelink. The increased responsibility for social workers at Centrelink is a result of the introduction of payment and privacy delegations in 1998. The delegations gave social workers, who hold a certain level of experience, the authority to make decisions about client eligibility for payments. Furthermore, the policy requires that correct decisions be made within a specified time frame to ensure a high quality standard of social work service within Centrelink (Business Partnership Agreement with FACS 2000, unpublished report).

A review of the literature indicated a lack of information relating to specific single-session social work interventions, such as those used in Centrelink. Godfrey (1999), who researched brief therapy in Centrelink, also noted the inability to locate relevant studies. She concluded that some elements of solution-focused/brief therapy were used in Centrelink and were appropriate for certain client groups. Her suggestion was that more research would be beneficial to define and articulate an appropriate practice framework for Centrelink that could be adapted to changing environments.

Richmond (1999), in contrast, analysed the limitations of the model of service delivery used when working with young persons and their families within Centrelink. She emphasised that the model was based on an ‘income support framework’, which imposes restrictions on the social workers’ flexibility to implement professional skills. Her recommendation was for a new service delivery model that focused more on a holistic, individualised approach to meet clients’ needs rather than simply assess them for income support. Since

294 Australian Social Work/December 2003, Vol. 56, No. 4

D ow

nl oa

de d

by [

W al

de n

U ni

ve rs

ity ]

at 1

3: 53

3 0

Ju ly

2 01

6

 

 

1999, however, Centrelink has implemented changes to achieve the provision of a more holistic service for its clients, by acknowledging that individuals have varying needs and require not only income support, but different types of assistance. Social workers within Centrelink now focus on providing a personalised service which explores clients’ needs, social circumstances and options before assisting them to develop action plans (Centrelink Social Work Services Directions, 2000, unpublished).

Based on the researchers’ understanding of this involuntary client group and the social work roles in face-to- face interviews with young persons, it was hypothesised that a generalist practice encompassing a brief-eclectic model of intervention would be used. The time allocated for interviews meant that brief intervention would be essential, as the beginning, middle and end phase of the interaction are generally performed within a single session.

Models of intervention often related to brief therapy are crisis, task centred and solution-focused models (Sheafor, Horejsi & Horejsi 2000). It was expected that social workers at Centrelink would use this and other models to address the varying issues presented by this client group. Combining aspects of different models represents an eclectic model of social work intervention (Payne 1997). An eclectic model is flexible and allows individual workers to customise their intervention to most effectively address the cases they encounter (Payne 1997). Such a model is commonly applied by social workers who exercise generalist practice (Meyer & Mattaini 1995; Sheafor et al. 2000).

Aims There were two aims for this research project. First, to identify and describe a social work model of intervention when interviewing young persons applying for the ‘Unreasonable to Live at Home’ rate of Youth Allowance. Second, to examine how social workers adapted their practice in accordance with both organisational and broader social changes.

Method

Design

Qualitative research methods, which combined the techniques of semistructured observations performed by the researchers and reflective questionnaires completed by social workers, were undertaken to address the aims of the research. Using both techniques allowed the researchers to compare their outcomes with the reflections of social workers. These two perspectives contributed to the objectivity of the data.

Participants

Participants were social workers from Centrelink customer service centres who volunteered to take part in the research. Specific customer service centres were chosen because of their close geographical proximity, which allowed researchers to complete the project within the time frame of field placement. All 19 social workers in the targeted areas agreed to participate, however, four were unable to take part in the research because of limited time and client non-attendance. Fifteen

Australian Social Work/December 2003, Vol. 56, No. 4 295

D ow

nl oa

de d

by [

W al

de n

U ni

ve rs

ity ]

at 1

3: 53

3 0

Ju ly

2 01

6

 

 

workers were involved in the project, three men and twelve women who had varying degrees of social work experience, as well as lengths of time spent working within Centrelink.

Instrumentation

The semistructured observations involved identifying material that fitted into the predetermined categories, combined with the opportunity for recording any other relevant data not previously categorised. The categories, which were determined by researchers before conducting observations, included issues addressed in the process of the interview, the social work skills implemented, the models of intervention used and the theoretical basis underpinning practice.

Questionnaires were anonymous and contained mostly open-ended questions. They were created to gather social workers’ reflections on the intervention models and skills used during their interview, an opinion of the most effective interventions for this client group and their individual level of satisfaction with the opportunities to implement interventions and skills. Information was also requested regarding the workers’ understanding of their role, the effects of policy and organisational changes on social work practice and any factors that impact on interactions with these clients.

Data collection

Researchers sent social workers information regarding the research project. Follow up phone calls were used to confirm workers’

agreement to participate and to schedule appointment times for observations. Twenty-six observations were carried out. Social workers were observed by one researcher on each occasion, with the exception of two interviews, which included both researchers. The reason for these joint observations was the lack of relevant interviews during the time allocated for the research. This proved to be beneficial in that it was possible for the researchers to crosscheck their data.

Questionnaires were given to social workers after the observed interviews and were required to be returned within the following week via internal mail to ensure anonymity. A total of 13 questionnaires were completed and returned.

Data analysis

The data was recorded and analysed manually by the researchers. Data from the observations was organised into the predetermined categories, whereas the data from the questionnaires was arranged according to the main themes arising from each question.

Ethical considerations

Social workers were informed that all information received from the research would be confidential and that either the worker or the client were free to withdraw from the research at any time. Before observing interviews social workers were asked to obtain verbal client permission for the researchers to be present during interviews. It was explained to the clients that the focus of the research was on the social worker and that their participation

296 Australian Social Work/December 2003, Vol. 56, No. 4

D ow

nl oa

de d

by [

W al

de n

U ni

ve rs

ity ]

at 1

3: 53

3 0

Ju ly

2 01

6

 

 

would not impact on the outcome of their claim.

Research limitations

Because of the limited amount of time allocated for the research project,

there was no opportunity to pretest or conduct substantial reviews. The time restrictions also impacted on the size of the sample and the extent to which the topic area could be broadened.

Australian Social Work/December 2003, Vol. 56, No. 4 297

Table 1. Interview Results

Categories Observations

Issues Addressed Introductory Issues: Greeting, worker’s role, process of assessment, payment types, client’s obligations, privacy and confidentiality, process of appeal, administrative assistance with forms, client’s right to decline answering questions and the consequence of this action, worker’s note-taking, contact details for parents and third parties. Family Situation: Family structure, relationships, support types, contact (frequency), parent’s employment status, drug & alcohol issues, mental health issues, police involvement, attempts at mediation and/or counselling. Reason for Leaving Home – Specifics of Conflict: time frame of conflict, type-verbal, physical, emotional, severity, violence/safety issues, responses to conflict, coping mechanisms. Mediation: Referral to reconnect service, conflict resolution, advice, counselling. Supports: Family, friends, school, professionals, other. Accommodation: Stability, safety, appropriateness, satisfaction, options. Education: Literacy/numeracy skills, personal goals, barriers, options. Employment: Referral to Job, Placement, Employment and Training, work conditions, wages, harassment issues, options. Ending: Worker’s contact details given, client’s questions, youth info card.

Social Work Skills Engagement, information sharing, clear language, respect, genuineness, warmth, attending, active listening, empathy, focusing, non-judgemental attitude, immediacy, mirroring/matching, questioning, clarifying, understanding, working through client resistance, concreteness, education & advice, empowerment, reframing, validation, encouragement, acknowledging feelings & strengths, information sharing, referral, visualisation, challenging, probing, advocacy, liaison, investigation, reality testing, self-disclosure, reassurance, negotiation, suggestion, summarising, creativity, imagination.

Models of Intervention Brief casework, crisis intervention, solution-focused, problem solving, psycho-social, assessment, task centred, education, referral, grief & loss, family therapy, empowerment, advocacy.

Theoretical Social work ethics and values, crisis theory, systems theory, role theory, Background life-cycle theory, conflict theory, consensus theory, labelling theory,

Feminist theory, antidiscriminatory, anti-oppressive, strengths perspectives, empowerment, communication theory, case management, narrative theory, structural theory.

D ow

nl oa

de d

by [

W al

de n

U ni

ve rs

ity ]

at 1

3: 53

3 0

Ju ly

2 01

6

 

 

Results

Observations

Table 1 represents the compilation of data recorded by the researchers after the observation of client interviews. The ‘issues addressed’ section depicts the general interview pattern that was followed by the majority of social workers. In other instances the same issues were covered in varying orders. Most of these issues were directly related to legislative requirements,

with variations resulting from specific client situations. An extensive range of social work skills were recorded from the observations. The use of these skills varied among workers. Models of intervention and theoretical background were identified by the researchers with the assistance of relevant social work literature.

Questionnaires

The following data represents the responses that social workers provided

298 Australian Social Work/December 2003, Vol. 56, No. 4

Fig. 1. Interventions implemented.

D ow

nl oa

de d

by [

W al

de n

U ni

ve rs

ity ]

at 1

3: 53

3 0

Ju ly

2 01

6

 

 

in the questionnaires completed after the observed interviews.

Figure 1 displays the interventions identified by social workers as being practised in the observed interviews. A significant number of interventions were identified, the most common ones being solution-focused and psychosocial assessment. These were closely followed by exploration, brief casework, and crisis intervention.

Figure 2 depicts the skills that social workers recognised as being used in their interactions. The skills of empathy and active listening were said to be used more often than the remaining skills, such as

rapport building, questioning, reflection, validation and so on.

A question was posed to social workers about their satisfaction with the opportunity to use their social work skills and intervention techniques. The responses indicated that the majority of workers were satisfied with these opportunities.

Figure 3 presents skills and interventions perceived by social workers to achieve the best outcomes. It shows social workers considered empathy as the most effective skill, followed by active listening, information sharing, validation, reframing and so on. The interventions thought to be capable of producing the best

Australian Social Work/December 2003, Vol. 56, No. 4 299

Listening

Questioning

Validation

Exploration

Paraphrasing

Mediation

Challenging

Referral

Fig. 2. Skills Utilised.

D ow

nl oa

de d

by [

W al

de n

U ni

ve rs

ity ]

at 1

3: 53

3 0

Ju ly

2 01

6

 

 

outcomes were crisis and problem solving interventions. Several other skills and interventions were also regarded as important to effective outcomes with this client group.

When asked about factors that impact on interactions with clients and satisfaction levels, social workers expressed that time and legislative requirements have the major influence. The issues of resources, working with mandatory clients and office set up were also observed as having a considerable effect (see Fig. 4).

The responses to the question about the changes within Centrelink and their impact on social work interventions identified that the resources and legislative changes do impact on their practice with this client group. Social workers expressed the view that their interventions now include more referrals to specialised outside agencies where particular client needs might be more readily met.

Social workers defined their casework role with young persons as multifaceted. They identified a variety of roles used

300 Australian Social Work/December 2003, Vol. 56, No. 4

Fig. 3. Interventions and skills for best outcomes.

D ow

nl oa

de d

by [

W al

de n

U ni

ve rs

ity ]

at 1

3: 53

3 0

Ju ly

2 01

6

 

 

when interviewing this client group for UTLAH rate of Youth Allowance, including assessment, needs identification, empowerment and advocacy (see Table 2).

Social workers were given the opportunity to make any further comments and the following responses were recorded:

‘Social work in Centrelink is specific.’

‘Can be a very influential position in assisting the disadvantaged.’

‘I believe we play a unique role in assisting young people in need.’

‘Social work has so much to contribute . . . due to our expertise.’

Discussion The research project identified a unique model of brief social work intervention used when interviewing young persons in Centrelink. This model is time-limited, being generally a single-session interview process requiring the workers to be directive in order to make rapid and accurate assessments, as well as being

Australian Social Work/December 2003, Vol. 56, No. 4 301

Fig. 4. Factors that impact on client interactions.

D ow

nl oa

de d

by [

W al

de n

U ni

ve rs

ity ]

at 1

3: 53

3 0

Ju ly

2 01

6

 

 

flexible in the implementation of social work interventions that are appropriate to each client. This demanding and complex model challenges workers to quickly use a variety of skills and interventions to suitably address the needs of the individual. The researchers’ observations showed that a large number of skills were used within the interviews, including engagement with involuntary clients, exploring sensitive issues with warmth and respect, offering support, encouragement and validation, as well as sharing information and providing referral.

The interviews showed the possibility for workers to successfully address and explore a large number of issues in the one session and to make a difference in young persons’ lives. In order to respond to different issues and client situations, workers combined parts of different intervention models. Aspects of crisis, solution-focused, task-centred, advocacy, problem solving, empowerment and education interventions were used to effectively address presenting issues. This creative use of various skills and interventions shows generalist practice which draws on an eclectic mix of interventions. An eclectic approach provides social workers with a diverse repertoire that can be used in Centrelink and other sectors, as it is flexible enough to be adapted to varying client situations. The fluidity of this model also allows

workers to manage continual organisational and social changes.

The responses from social workers to the questionnaire generally supported the researchers’ observations. However, the researchers identified more social work interventions and skills used in the interactions than social workers themselves. There might be several reasons for this. One possibility is that the researchers were well prepared to identify interventions and skills, as that was the focus of the research. Another factor might be that the interventions and skills become an intrinsic part of social workers’ practice that is automatically implemented and therefore difficult to distinguish and name.

Social workers recognised that they uphold a variety of roles when working with this client group. The range identified by workers suggests that they have the ability to adjust their practice according to client and organisational needs. This is clearly reminiscent of generalist practice.

When comparing workers’ responses about the interventions and skills used in the interviews with the perceived skills and interventions that would produce the best outcomes, interesting results were obtained. The core skills of empathy and active listening were identified as being used most frequently, as well as being regarded to be the most effective. In contrast, there were differences observed between which interventions workers used

302 Australian Social Work/December 2003, Vol. 56, No. 4

Table 2. Social Workers’ Roles

Advocacy Mediation Empowerment Reality testing Education Facilitation Decision-making Assessment Counselling Rapport/support Referral Identifying needs

D ow

nl oa

de d

by [

W al

de n

U ni

ve rs

ity ]

at 1

3: 53

3 0

Ju ly

2 01

6

 

 

and those nominated as able to produce the best outcomes. Crisis intervention and problem solving were nominated as most effective, whereas the interventions identified as most frequently used in observed interviews were solution-focused and social assessment. The difference might have resulted from the different focus of the questions, one being directed at the observed interview, with the other being concentrated on generalised perceptions gained through casework experience with this client group. Another reason for this discrepancy might be that the workers see the benefit of certain interventions, but find that it is not always appropriate to use them in every situation. For example, crisis intervention was regarded as able to produce the best outcomes, but as the clients might not always be in crisis, this intervention could be inappropriate. Alternatively, it might reflect the social workers’ search for a flexible model of intervention that could be applied appropriately for the individual client within this organisation.

The researchers thought, and social workers supported, that social workers within Centrelink would face challenges to their practice in relation to increased demands on service provision, ongoing legislative changes, and dilemmas around professional and organisational responsibilities. As in other workplaces, finite resources and increased demands on employees direct the need for them to work more efficiently. This has resulted, as Woods and Hollis (1990) suggest, in the expanded use of brief interventions in more settings. In Centrelink it is necessary for social workers to not only work within

set legislative frameworks, but also to manage the continual changes in legislation. These organisational requirements might challenge social workers’ professional values and ethics, at times causing conflict between the workers’ desired interventions with clients and the possibilities offered within the organisational structure. In both government and nongovernment organisations social workers face environments which require adaptation of their practice. This might necessitate, as McDonald and Jones (2000) suggest, a rethink of social work roles and practice theories. Given that Centrelink is at the forefront of organisational change, social workers within this agency are well positioned to contribute to the creation of new theoretical concepts and a broadening of the social work role.

Future research

The focus of this research was solely on the social work interview with the client. Future research might examine the whole process of assessment for the UTLAH rate of Youth Allowance from interview stage through to final decision. This would provide a comprehensive picture of the social work interventions, skills and roles used in this complex ethical decision-making process.

As brief intervention was identified as being increasingly used in more settings, further research might look closely at unique single session interventions, such as that used in Centrelink. It would be beneficial to describe and name this currently practised framework, because it would contribute to established

Australian Social Work/December 2003, Vol. 56, No. 4 303

D ow

nl oa

de d

by [

W al

de n

U ni

ve rs

ity ]

at 1

3: 53

3 0

Ju ly

2 01

6

 

 

theoretical concepts and/or models of social work intervention when promoting the valuable role of social workers using this framework.

Conclusion Social work within the changing context of Centrelink is unique and does not fit easily into any specific category. The research identified a large number of skills and an eclectic mix of interventions that social workers used when working with young persons applying for the UTLAH rate of Youth Allowance. This generalist model of intervention allowed social workers to alter their practice to address a variety of client needs and to respond to ongoing organisational changes.

The challenges faced by social workers within Centrelink are in relation to working within strict legislative frameworks that endure continual changes and the pressure of added demands for efficiency and accountability. These challenges might result in the dilemma of how social workers are to uphold professional values and ethics and satisfy organisational requirements.

It is important for social workers to continue to seek ways of altering and expanding their practice to show their commitment to the development of a professional knowledge base and to promote the invaluable role that social workers hold within organisations.

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to acknowledge, with gratitude, the assistance of Centrelink, the research participants, the Social Work Department of the University of Newcastle, and our field supervisors, Fionna Murphy and Louise Guthrie, for their encouragement and support.

References

GODFREY S (1999), Brief Therapy: A Practice Framework for Social Workers in Centrelink. PHD Thesis Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane.

MCDONALD C & JONES A (2000), Reconstructing and reconceptualising social work in the emerging milieu. Australian Social Work, 53 (3), 3–11.

MEYER CH & MATTAINI MA (1995), The Foundation of Social Work Practice. NASW Press, New York.

PAYNE M (1997), Modern Social Work Theory. 2nd edn. Macmillan, Basingstoke.

RICHMOND S (1999), More than assessment: Responding to the pressure points experienced by young people and families. http//centrenet/homepage/nso/socialwork/socialwk_ information/index.htm Accessed 11 July 2003.

ROWLANDS D (2000), Purchaser-provider in social policy delivery: how can we evaluate the Centrelink arrangements? Australian Social Policy 1, 69–87.

SACH J & NEWDON F (1999), Clinical Work and Social Action: An Integrated Approach. Haworth Press, London.

SHEAFOR BW, HOREJSI CR & HOREJSI GA (2000),Techniques and Guidelines for Social Work Practice. 5th edn. Allyn & Bacon, USA.

WOODS ME & HOLLIS F (1990), Casework: a Psychosocial Therapy, McGraw-Hill, USA.

Article accepted for publication April 2003

304 Australian Social Work/December 2003, Vol. 56, No. 4

D ow

nl oa

de d

by [

W al

de n

U ni

ve rs

ity ]

at 1

3: 53

3 0

Ju ly

2 01

6

"Is this question part of your assignment? We can help"

ORDER NOW