Collaborative Helping
eBook - ePub

Collaborative Helping

A Strengths Framework for Home-Based Services

William C. Madsen, Kevin Gillespie

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eBook - ePub

Collaborative Helping

A Strengths Framework for Home-Based Services

William C. Madsen, Kevin Gillespie

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An interdisciplinary framework for sustainable helping through cross-system collaboration

This hands-on resource provides clear, practical guidance for supportive service professionals working in a home-based environment. Drawing on best practices from a range of disciplines, this book provides a clear map for dealing with the complex and often ambiguous situations that arise with individuals and families, with applications extending to supervision and organizational change. Readers gain the advice and insight of real-world frontline helpers, as well as those who receive care, highlighting new ways to approach the work and re-think previous conceptualizations of problems and strengths. Helping efforts are organized around a shared, forward-thinking vision that anticipates obstacles and draws on existing and potential supports in developing a collaborative plan of action.

The book begins with stories that illustrate core concepts and context, presenting a number of useful ideas that can reorient behavioral services while outlining a principle-based practice framework to help workers stay grounded and focused. Problems are addressed, and strength-based work is expanded into richer conversations about strengths in the context of intention and purpose, value and belief, hopes, dreams, and commitments. Topics include:

  • Contextual guidance with helping maps
  • Engaging people and re-thinking problems and strengths
  • Dilemmas in home and community services
  • Sustainable helping through collaboration and support

A strong collaboration between natural networks, communities, and trained professionals across systems creates an effective helping endeavor. Ensuring sustainability may involve promoting systems change, and building institutional supports for specific supervisory, management, and organizational practices. Collaborative Helping provides a framework for organizing these efforts into a coherent whole, serving the needs of supportive services workers across sectors.

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Chapter 1
Helping: What, How, and Why

Stories of Helping Relationships

Helping relationships sustain people, they provide support in times of joy and crisis, and they strengthen families and contribute to a sense of community. The desire to be helpful may run deep across cultures and different walks of life, but the skills of helping do not always come easily or naturally. This book describes a principled framework intended to assist anyone who wants to make intentional helping a part of his or her life. We call the framework Collaborative Helping. This chapter begins with three stories of helping relationships and uses them to examine the what, how, and why of helping. The what is the content of helping activities (What are we doing?). The how refers to the process of helping endeavors (How are we doing what we’re doing?). And the why reflects the overall purpose of helping efforts (Why are we doing what we’re doing?).

Henry’s Story as Told by a Helper1

I worked with a poor White family with four kids in foster care. Henry, the single father, had beaten one of the boys with an electric cord, and the kids were about to be placed in permanent custody of the state. No one had been able to make any progress with the family. Henry was very suspicious and had refused to meet with Child Protective Services (CPS). He’d had problems with the courts on and off for years and many workers were scared of him. Lots of them knew him by name and made jokes about his family, calling them all “losers” and being convinced they’d never change. The family was referred to us as a kind of last-ditch effort before CPS removed the kids.
So, after several attempts, I got in to see Henry, and he was skeptical and very slow to trust anybody. I tried to find something to connect with him on and he told me he grew up in eastern Tennessee. Well, I grew up in eastern Tennessee, and we learn we’re from the same small town. So, that gave me a little inside track with him, but he was still pretty hesitant about working with me. After a few more visits, he finally began to open up a bit. He said “I got all these letters from CPS and I don’t know what they are.” So, he brought out a shoebox full of letters from CPS and admitted to me that he couldn’t read. He had never told anybody that he couldn’t read. Since he wouldn’t meet with CPS, they kept sending him letters with the case plan and what he needed to do. And, because he couldn’t read, he just put them in a box and didn’t follow through. Well, we went through the letters and I explained to him what all he needed to do in order to meet the plan for reunification. The kids were kind of mixed on what they wanted, but the whole family agreed to work on the plan that had been spelled out.
Henry doesn’t drive, so I would pick him up, take him to both his drug counseling and random drug testing appointments and he never missed one. Now, our county is very weak with their drug testing and it probably would not be admissible in court. You pee in a cup and they stick a piece of cardboard in it and if it turns blue then it’s positive. Well, one time, the girl who was reading the drug test said, “I don’t know. Kinda looks positive but I’m not sure.” And when she filled out the form she marked it positive and I told her, “This man is trying to get his children back and you are sending the court a document that you are not sure about. That’s not fair. You have to be sure in what you’re saying.” Well, my taking up for him made major points, and from then on Henry began to trust me a bit more.
In the meantime, we worked with the kids and the court allowed supervised visits, and they went well and that changed the CPS worker’s opinion of Henry. The thing is, nobody understood his culture. He grew up in the back country of eastern Tennessee where when kids misbehaved, you roughed them up. I’m not saying that’s right, he definitely went over the line, but that’s all he knew. As we went on, people began to see a man they had never seen before. He was very sincere and serious about making sure the kids knew how much he loved them and that he didn’t want to hurt them. Well, the kids began to look forward to the visitations and before long the kids all agreed that they wanted to go back with Henry. So, it came down to court time and the judge was pretty prejudiced against him and determined not to let the kids go back home. But, everybody else involved went into court and threw so many positive things at the judge that he had no choice but to say, “Okay, let’s give it a try.” That was 3 months ago. Now, the kids are back home and things are going well. We’re still in the home providing follow-up services to the family. Henry has been very cooperative; the kids are in school and doing pretty good.
That’s a remarkable story. What would you say helped to make this happen?
Well, I think I got beyond all the preconceived notions about this family. People saw Henry as a loser and didn’t understand why he wasn’t going along with them. Nobody had discovered that he couldn’t read. And, it wasn’t that he wasn’t willing to be compliant. There was a pride issue there. He didn’t want to admit to these people that he couldn’t read. But once the barrier was broken down and a bridge was built, he was finally willing to admit, “I can’t read.” When he understood what they were asking of him, he was willing to go along with it because it made sense to him.
And how did you build that bridge that allowed something different to happen?
Well, I knew his culture and he felt comfortable knowing I knew where he came from. And I wasn’t judgmental like a lot of the other people from agencies that had been in there. You know so many agencies come across with this attitude of “I’m here, you gotta jump through my hoops, and you can’t do anything about that.” And, I try to go in with the approach of “I’m here, but I’m not here to hammer you or to pass judgment on you. I’m here to help you if you want and if I can.” You’ve got to earn the right for people to trust you and be willing to work with you.
And what are some of the ways in which you go about earning that right?
Identify a common ground. There’s always common ground. Any time you walk into a home, you can look around and find something to connect around. And once you find that common ground, you can build a relationship around that, and that’s going to open doors that will help them let the walls down.

Amira’s Story as Told by Her

I live in a rat trap apartment in the city with my three kids. I haven’t seen their father in years and figure he’s either in prison or dead. My mother lives upstairs and goes back and forth between hounding me to make a better life for my kids and complaining that I think I’m better than her. I probably drink more than I should, but other people seem a lot more worried about it than me, so I’ve had a number of professionals parade in and out of my life for way too long. So, two of my kids were having trouble getting to school and I got “informed” that I’m going to get some help for that. I wasn’t too keen on this, but said, “Okay, whatever. . .” I figured I could bluff my way out of this like I had done with everything else. So anyway, one morning this worker comes to my apartment. I was in a bad mood. It was hot, our fan was busted, the kids were whining, and the fact that I was hung over probably didn’t help either. Anyways, there was just this din in my head and someone is banging on the door ’cause my frickin’ landlord won’t fix the bell. And, I had forgotten about the appointment and was thinking “Who the hell is that and what do they want?” and I open the door and here’s this worker who looks like she’s 12. I remember our appointment and I’m embarrassed and ashamed standing there in my bathrobe and without thinking, I snap, “Who the ‘F’ are you and what are you doing in my hallway? Get the hell out of here!” And she smiles sweetly and says, “I’m sorry I caught you at a bad time. Would it be better if I came back tomorrow?” I slam the door in her effing face. Anyway, she leaves a card with a note and sure enough next morning, she’s there knocking on my door again. And she keeps doing it. She’s like the Energizer Bunny—she just keeps going and going and going. And, finally, I let her in and find out she’s not that bad to talk to.
What convinced you she was not that bad to talk to?
Well, first of all, she was direct and honest, no beating around the bush like that usual sickeningly sweet and smug, “How can we help you, Ms. Jackson?” when they already have their answers to that question. She started out telling me what in particular the people at school were worried about with my kids and why she was coming to my home. Then she took time to get to know me and learn about what I was worried about. She also asked me about what was working well and seemed to be even more interested in that. And she was really curious, she seemed to enjoy talking with me and I kind of liked talking to her.
So, it sounds like things got off to a good start. What happened afterward that was important to you?
Well, a few things. I felt like we were in this together. When she asked me questions, it felt like we were exploring things together rather than her grilling me with a clipboard. The plan we came up with came from both of us and made a lot more sense to me. In the past, people had come in saying, “You got to do this, you got to do that.” And I’m thinking, “WTF? I’m looking for a job to support my family and that’s a full-time job. I’m raising three kids and that’s a full-time job and now I’ve got to go to all these appointments and that’s a job and a half. Where am I gonna find time to do 3½ jobs?” And she came along and said, “How can I help with all you got on your plate? I can’t do it for you, but I’m glad to do it with you.” And I was like, “My Lord, finally someone who’s on my side.” And I was much more willing to take the extra time to meet with her. The other thing she did was continually ask, “How is this going for you? What are we doing that’s working and what could we do that would be more helpful? And she really meant it, you know? She was really interested in whether what we were doing was useful to me. That was pretty crazy!”
That’s cool! Was there anything else she did that was particularly helpful from your perspective?
Yeah, she was the first worker I’ve had that acknowledged she was White. Like I’m Black, in case you didn’t notice, and I’ve had a hard time of it being Black and I don’t raise that with White workers, which is most of what I’ve had, because I worry they’ll think I’m just “playing the race card” and so I just sit on that stuff and pretend it’s not there and end up seething. And when she introduced race into our conversations, I thought “Wow, that’s one crazy White woman. Maybe she gets this and maybe I can really talk to her.” It kind of told me that I could trust her and I could talk about stuff that was important to me.
So, how did she introduce race into the conversation and what was it about how she did it that was important to you?
Well, sort of what I said to you, she said, in case you haven’t noticed it, I’m White. We both laughed and she went on to tell me that she was pretty comfortable working and living across color, but realized she still had a lot to learn and wasn’t sure whether me being Black and her being White would be a problem, or no problem, or kind of a problem, and she just wanted to put it out on the table so it’d be there to talk about if that made sense. But you know, I don’t think it’s just about race. It’s like us folks that you all are trying to help, we live in a really different world than you do and you come into our world and pretend to be all good meaning, like you’re contributing to some charity for Christmas, and you got to realize how annoying that is. We don’t need charity, we need help, we need someone who is willing to step into our life and stand with us. Just because we’re having a hard time traveling doesn’t mean we’re incapable of traveling. It just means it’s hard and she really got that. She didn’t hold herself above me and seemed like a normal person and when she wasn’t “all that,” I didn’t have to be “all not that.” And that’s the crux of it for me. She didn’t judge me and that allowed me to talk more openly to her about stuff I normally don’t tell you folks.

Amanda’s Story as Told by a Helper

I worked with a White woman living out in the country in a trailer. When I got the referral, they said, “You can’t go out alone. This woman is homicidal, schizoaffective, and off her meds.” So, two of us went out and we were both pretty nervous. It’s out in the middle of nowhere, down a little dirt road with no cell ...


  1. Cover
  2. Contents
  3. Title
  4. Copyright
  5. Acknowledgments
  6. Introduction
  7. About the Authors
  8. Chapter 1: Helping: What, How, and Why
  9. Chapter 2: Cornerstones of Collaborative Helping
  10. Chapter 3: A Map to Guide Helping Efforts
  11. Chapter 4: Collaborative Helping Maps in Different Contexts
  12. Chapter 5: Engaging People to Envision New Lives
  13. Chapter 6: Rethinking Problems and Strengths
  14. Chapter 7: Dilemmas in Home and Community Services
  15. Chapter 8: Sustainable Helping
  16. References
  17. Index
  18. End User License Agreement