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Selected Readarounds in Child and Youth Care

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Developing effective interventions with families

Thom Garfat and Niall McElwee

Another dimension of our interventions has to do with the idea of being proactive or reactive. In a reactive intervention, the social care practitioner might be responding only to what is presented by the family. She is in essence, following the lead of the family, or family member. At other times, an intervention might be reactive because it touched a personal cord with the worker, who responds from her own business, without considering the possible benefit for the family. While, of course, reactive interventions are sometimes both necessary and important, we need to be cautious that our interventions are not only reactive as this creates a situation where the helper fails to bring helpful leadership to the family.

A proactive intervention involves a situation where a social care practitioner sees an opportunity for intervention and based on her assessment of what might be the most helpful intervenes. She does not wait for a situation to demand her intervention. She is, in effect, leading the process, not following it. The intervention is thoughtful, planned and outcome focussed. In these cases the social care practitioner has often considered, before the opportunity arises, the possibility of making such an intervention should the opportunity arise. Such consideration may have occurred when the practitioner was reflecting on her experience of the family after the last visit, or may even have occurred only moments earlier as she reflected on the current situation. Interventions which are proactive reflected the preparedness of the practitioner.

Our interventions with families will include a mix of both proactive and reactive actions, depending on the particular situation. We can all imagine situations where a ‘reactive’ intervention would be the intervention of choice. Sometimes, for example, a situation might demand an immediate action to prevent physical harm and in the situation, any intervention might be better than no intervention at all. The goal, obviously, is to reduce the incidence of reactive interventions when such is not necessary, so as to become more intentional in our work.

Imagine the following: A social care practitioner is visiting a family in which she has noticed a pattern. Two of the young people start a discussion. Within a minute or two, one of the youth challenges the validity of what the other is saying. Once the challenge is presented, the other youth reacts with a personal comment on the abilities of the other. When the comment on personal abilities is offered, the first youth typically responds by shouting. Once the shouting starts, it is a short time before the physical interactions start, usually resulting in a violent altercation.

In a reactive response, the social care practitioner might wait until the shouting starts, until threat is present, and then intervene. In a proactive intervention, based on her understanding of the typical patterns of interaction of the youth, she might intervene as soon as the two start interacting, proposing, for example, that the two get involved in an activity which does not include verbal interaction, knowing that if the situation is left to continue, the violence is sure to erupt.

Garfat, T. PhD., & McElwee, N. PhD. (2004).Developing Effective Interventions with Families: An Eircan Perspective. Cape Town: Pretext. pp. 58 – 59.

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