Why a relational chain?
Bureaucratic policies and procedures
that dominate child welfare services.
Relational considerations used to be
primary in child protection services
Due to period of managerialism and
focus on technical considerations, fell
out of favor
Front Line Social Worker
I think that any management system
wants work to be done efficiently and
expediently. These words have nothing to
do with the quality of relationship.
Change is based on relationship, which
can’t be measured. So the two systems
don’t easily work together.
Bureaucratic influences on
[the] “more perfectly the bureaucracy is
‘dehumanized’, the more completely it
succeeds in eliminating from official
business love, hatred, and all purely
personal, irrational and relational elements
which escape calculation. This is the
specific nature of bureaucracy and it is
appraised as its special virtue” (Max
Weber, retrieved July 27, 2006).
Present day child welfare
In spite of massive investments of resources, few
are satisfied with the outcomes achieved by child
welfare services. In Alberta 1.9 billion dollars
Hardly a day goes by without a major child
welfare crisis somewhere in the Western world.
There are calls for procedural solutions or
resources to minimize the repetition of ‘errors’
that call attention to ‘deficiencies’.
Legacy of child welfare reviews
Increased paperwork, to the point
where the time spent on casework
with clients is now far less than the
time needed to document their
New procedures, safeguards, protocols,
training and information requirements
• Risk assessment
• Sophisticated information systems
• Rigid timelines
• Greater specification of responsibilities and
• New legislation, to name only a few
This can result in an iron cage
No one knows who will live in this cage in the
future, or whether at the end of this tremendous
development entirely new prophets will arise, or
there will be a great rebirth of old ideas and
ideals or, if neither, mechanized metrification
embellished with a sort of convulsive self-
importance. (Elwell, Retrieved July 27, 2006).
What about relationships?
When do the recommendations focus
on the quality of supportive
relationships between the social
workers, children and their families,
caregivers, and the community?
Public Crises of confidence
Child deaths created a lack of
confidence in social work processes
Government blamed for not having
or making good use of information
Transformed the core issue in child
welfare from the rehabilitation of the
family to protecting the child from
In Alberta, the death of Richard
Cardinal signaled the beginning of
The key question became
How can we keep children from
being killed by their parents?
The ball is now in the court of
administrative and legal processes
instead of the professional and
Shift from therapy to surveillance
Social work discretion seemed to
result in children being killed.
Therefore, discretion had to be
The emphasis in CPS became
primarily to protect children and less
to support families
• Need to create routines for social
workers to follow if children were to be
• Social workers need to obey rules and
• Should we even have social workers?
Child Welfare workers as
“Drilled” people who would act as
desired if properly chosen and placed
within an appropriately designed
This created passive agents who can
Creativity can be dangerous as may
step out of bounds
More information/ investigations
Evidence must be gathered
Detailed guidelines established for
child welfare workers
Assumption about Parents
If we are not confident in our ability
to support the family, we had best
be able to predict their potential for
The number of child deaths
that come to public attention
do not seem to be changing.
So, how does the system look from
the bottom up?
From child welfare workers
From the parents themselves
What do Child Welfare Workers
Bent Arrow Experience
Time for reflection
Collaboration between CWW in an
Aboriginal agency and government
Insights into benefits of co-location
Insights into impact of work context
Why does it all have to
be so complicated?
A social worker’s story
A Child Welfare Worker view on
It was very clear to me, one, the
importance of relationship and really
getting to know the youth and. . . .
so you get to know them so well . . .
They just wanted connection and
they wanted relationship
. . .you’re reminding me why I
became a social worker many years
ago. It was because that relationship
with the children and the family, not
worrying about a thousand overdue
The vision- If we can renew our
focus on relationship
Ultimately we will have improved
outcomes for families, increased
stability at all levels of the
organization, a revised definition of
successful family stories and
everyone (workers and families) will
be treated with greater respect.
If relationship were important
Would our offices not be more client
Why cipher locks and shatterproof
Would our workers spend the bulk of
their precious time at computer
(relationship) is just taking us back
to why we’ve gone into the field. It’s
so very basic and simple. It’s to build
relationships, and ultimately, it’s a
very simple concept
For children and families
Would we place children hundreds of miles away
from their communities and families
Would professional staff be so unavailable to the
children in their care?
Would there be so many specialists in the lives of
children, few of whom create continuity?
Would so many children spend their lives in care
and end up on the streets and in jail?
the group spirit is infectious
when you’re around a bunch of
people who want to do different
service and be creative. It lights
a spark in your own creativity
that will allow you to develop
There is truth in the specifics- The
policy makers are trying to globalize
rules to fit every situation, when
what really needs to happen is to
look at the specifics of the truth.
It takes courage to do what is right
in social work
There is a lot of fear in the Ministry’s
at all levels.
Provocative Questions- If creativity
Would leadership look askance at those
who push the envelope?
Would we keep being weighed down with
ever increasing information requirements?
• Would the procedural bounds that contain
our creativity not be loosened?
If Creativity were important we
A more effective service system that
is focused on meaningful
interventions and collaboration with
families and their communities
Concern that leadership has lost touch due
to a overriding concern with optics and
A hope that leaders can regain a focus on
what is ‘real’ and truly needed for the
If leadership were valued, would
we not have . ..
A commitment to make it work at all
Greater interest in each others point of
Allow natural leaders to lead
Allow all people to shine – including
children, families and communities
When things turn out badly
There’s a very punitive kind of approach
when things go bad but we’re dealing with
high-risk families, we’re dealing with high-
risk kids and sometimes those risks
become insurmountable in certain
situation. I would like . . . policy makers
to know that we deal with high risk
people, and that’s not always going to turn
Central Region Study 1996
Stories from parents on CPS
Dialogue between parents and child
What they wanted
To have their entire story heard
To form a relationship
To help define the problem
To be involved in the solution
To be respected and treated with
“I think I know what we should do”
Stories validated by research
Latest theory discount relevance of
variety of helping models
What creates change
• 30 % relationship with worker
• 40 % other relationships
• 15% trust and confidence in worker
• 15% the specific technique
What I have to tell you about
Aboriginal Mothers Experiences
Based on three studies
• Jumping Through the Hoops – Manitoba
• Broken Promises – BC
• Broken Hearts - Alberta
Compare and Contrast
Reflect on these on these as I
describe some of the findings
Insights from Aboriginal Mothers
The decisions to bring children into
care are made between the child
welfare worker and the mother.
This should be the most important
voice for policy makers and decision
makers to hear.
How it looks from their
Why am I saying this?
Based on three important studies in
BC, Alberta and Manitoba
Mothers Experiences with Child
• I was even scared to go for treatment
because I figured … if I’m gonna go for
treatment then it means I got a problem
and they’re gonna find a reason to take
my kids away and that’s what
They had people watching my home
and I’m going to try to make a court
case saying that’s invasion of my
privacy and movements
Drug and alcohol testing
Triggering mothers anger
it appeared to them that the social
workers deliberately tried to make
• “They want to set you up. There are key
words and there are key things they try
to throw at you to make you fly off the
Visits with children
I looked forward to the Saturday
visitations I had with them for an hour.
That was very hard, very hard. To see
them crying because they had to leave me
and it’s not like I could walk to a park and
be alone with them, I had to be
supervised. I’m not an abusive mom …
that I could not understand. What did they
think I was going to do with my kids? It
Worry about harm to their
children in care
At one point my family had to intervene
because my kids were in a foster home
where it was a cult. There was sexual
abuse going on, there was physical abuse
going on, the foster mom actually got her
licensed pulled…a lot of my son’s and my
daughter’s psychological abuse and
physical abuse stemmed from that
particular foster home.
“parenting programs … I don’t even
know how many programs … I went
for treatment. … I got so many
certificates its unreal.”
There is no rhyme and reason to the
types and/or number of programs
that mothers are required to attend.
Jumping through the hoops
He wanted me to jump through
hoops and I didn’t like… You have to
try and prove to them that you’re
trying to get them back and you’re
trying to do everything they want
you to do. In order to do that you’ve
got to … I felt like I was always
kissing their ass…
Rights of mothers
I didn’t know any of my rights. I didn’t
know I could’ve hired a lawyer. I could
have had support services come in…. CFS
didn’t sit down and say “look we can give
you a support worker; we can suggest this
program and that program to you.” None
of that was done. It was just “okay, here’s
a court date, come for your kids.”
Lack of advocates
“The advocate…wasn’t allowed in the
courtroom. Well … what I said was, “oh,
you guys are allowed all your people but
I’m not allowed to have mine?” I think it is
important for these women to have
someone there with them because they
become emotional … you’ve got these
people bashing you, your character and
your parenting. No you need someone
Development of Aboriginal Mothers’ Advocacy
Manual on Understanding the Child Welfare and
Mothers’ Support Groups
Allow close family, friends and other supporters
Development of a Website
Anthology of Aboriginal mothers and
grandmothers’ Stories and Experiences
Why are there no alternatives to adversarial legal systems?
Why do social workers and mothers have to be
What are we waiting for to have Mother’s Advocates?
What is stopping us from providing easily understood
information about the workings of the system?
Do we know how helpful are all the hoops?
How can we better teach our child welfare workers to
manage their helping and authoritative role?
Max Weber’s fear
Does this information validate
Weber’s fear that growing areas of
life would be subjected to decision
making according to technical rules,
diminishing creative thinking and self
direction on the part of its members
The Relational Chain
Merging logic and emotion
Objective of the Relational
To create programs that are more
fully responsive to the families and
communities we serve and those
who serve them.
A powerful tool to:
Translate community needs into a
program planning model that can be
more easily understood and applied by
policy makers, managers, and front line
Bring greater coherence to social work
practice by measuring outcomes of heart
and mind, the essence of holistic practice
The Relational Chain
Addresses issues from the social work lens of people in the
context of their environment, with a specific focus on
It acknowledges the connection between individuals,
groups, and systems, and their interplay with each other.
It is consistent with a world view that sees everything in
the universe as intimately connected; a worldview that
quantum physics now reinforces..
Renaissance of relationship based practice
There is a burgeoning interest in the
importance of relationship and connection
to each other.
Driven in part by fatigue and frustration
with the rigidly managed, risk-aversive,
reactive practices that have invaded social
We work in a reductionist approach
to individuals; implementing
interventions based on surface
problems rather than addressing the
What does this do?
It contributes to diminishing the potential
for creativity at a time when it is most
Focusing on rigid policies, procedures and
gate keeping rather than on understanding
the children and families involved means
that the all important relationships suffer
(Houston & Griffiths (2000).
Must be succinct and accurate
Elaborates on the issue.
What do we want to achieve?
What activities can we undertake?
Target Group – who will be affected?
Resources – what do we need to do
For children, families and
Systemic – what will it do for the
Ultimate vision – 20 year time frame
Internal and external considerations
What assumptions can we make?
What external influences can come
What will we want to know
How will we know it?
Children continue to die which creates
more procedures and guidelines
Increasingly likely that some worker will
have failed to meet some requirement
All worker and supervisor has to do is to
go by the book to avoid responsibility
This kind of social work may not be
effective but it can be ‘right’.
Glimmers of Hope
Becoming clear that all of this
activity is not reducing the numbers
of children who die
Alienated clients and practice-worn
child welfare workers are setting up
Discourse on ‘child protection’ sets
up new possibilities
This research does not pretend to be
Can lead to asking the right
questions and to examine existing
practice more closely
May apply to many other fields of
Perhaps we are spending too much
precious time and resources trying to
control for factors that are
impossible to control.
If so, what are we missing that we
could be doing with our time and
resources that would be more useful
What can we do?
Reflect on our practice and policies
Create dialogue between workers
Dialogue between workers and
clients and the policy and managerial
Challenge ourselves on why we
spend so much of our precious time
and energy on possibilities that have
a .001 likelihood of happening and
which we cannot really predict
Resolve the paradox
Organizational rigidity and client preferences for
flexible and innovative responses can create a
paradox for child welfare workers
Minimize the sources of tension and create a
more satisfying environment for families and
those who serve them.
Clear that clients very much preferred a
practice orientation that was consistent with
social work values and principles.
Process versus Task
“. . .families hoped for a helping process
that depended upon social workers having
time to listen, and one that treated them
as unique individuals worthy of dignity and
Clients long to have their whole story
heard instead of many people dealing with
Creativity versus prescription
If anything it opened up the door with workers to
be more creative with their clients. We’re
supposed to fit them into categories, instead of
making something out of this for the client. Now
at least you feel that there is some room. That
was a bit of a highlight.
I think we need to have more leeway in the
services we provide to families, because they
don’t fit the categories, sometimes we have to do
something special and we need the freedom to do
Community Partnership versus
Most social workers did not recall clients
comments about community
Some clients had suggested that the community
could better support families with important and
predictable life transitions, such as those
triggered by the onset of adolescence.
I thought it was very idealistic. It would be nice if
the community could help more, but I see us
[living] in a very isolated world right now.
What the study did for the workers
They seemed more prepared to
acknowledge the legitimacy of client
perceptions on service limitations, and
more responsive to their requests for more
creative and flexible responses to their
needs. Ultimately the study process gave
them greater confidence in seeking
approval for creative service responses
that went beyond the boundaries of
One worker sums it up
I have to say that it [the process]
made me cockier. This made me
much more confident that if I came
up with a creative plan my manager
would hear it out.