How do we as youth workers reach seemingly
uncooperative parents? If anyone has any advice it would be greatly
Never consider a parent as uncooperative, always consider them the best expert you have on their child. It will give you a very different perspective on the work you do.
It is imperative that the Child and Youth Care reaches out to the parents while carefully listening to their fears, concerns and sensitivities. When parents feel they are being heard they may become more open to listening to your open ended questions of "how things are going (factually)". It is important they not feel attacked and judged. Of course, parent's readiness to co-operate are often directly related to their readiness to look at themselves. Everyone is on a life long journey.
As always in our work we want to approach anyone with the idea that all parents care about their kids and have done some very good things for them. When approaching a parent I like to immediately compliment them for the job they have done raising their child. Statements like, " I see you have raised your son/daughter to stand up for themselves" or "Your son/daughter was very polite to me when we met, I'm sure that is something you taught them."
Parents whose son/daughter has come to the attention of school administrators or juvenile courts etc. can easily jump to conclusions that these people blame them for whatever their child has done to have put the spotlight on them. I have never found a parent who would not find a way to cooperate with what is in the best interest of their child. The idea of resistance or uncooperativeness should never interfere with our mutual goals.
Tell them if they don't cooperate things will get much much worse...lol. Just kidding.
My professor always said that there are two main forces involved in motivation: a push of discomfort, and a pull of hope. You need to figure out what is their push of discomfort (what they want to get away from – i.e. unhappiness, conflict, etc), and what is their pull of hope (how would they like their family to be like?).
If the push of discomfort is not strong
enough, you have to add more discomfort (by techniques such as
unbalancing, and if the pull of hope is too small, you have to
strengthen it (by reinforcing that they CAN have a better life, they ARE
able to make improvements, etc). Your worst scenario is where the
push of discomfort is big enough for them to complain, but too small to
motivate movement, and the same for the pull of hope, small enough so
they complain about what they don't have, but not close enough within
reach for them to move. Then they are stuck in the middle between
the two, in the comfort zone. They are in a state of dysfunctional
homeostasis. If you increase the push of discomfort, and the pull
of hope, you unbalance the system, forcing movement. Sometimes
things get worse before they get better, or rather, you have to make
them get worse, before they can get better. May sound a little
controversial, but see the family therapy techniques of Salvador
Minuchin, and specifically the technique of unbalancing. Not as
easy as it sounds, but good luck.
Werner van der Westhuizen
Gotta meet the parents where they are at too. Often they perceive that they are being blamed by the system for their kids behavior (sometimes for good reason and sometimes not). "The apple doesn't fall to far from the tree" is one assumption underlying much of our work with families that I think gets in the way of us building helping alliances with families. Parents are often hostile and reactive for good reasons and if we can get them to talk about that pain and hurt and feelings of inadequacy or responsibility we can get them talking about other things. Families are inherently conservative because it is their job to put aside their own individual lives and start living for their kids lives. Good stuff. When we youth workers and social workers invade these family spaces (often for good reason) we create an unnatural relationship (how many of us have social workers in our lives?). It goes along ways to acknowledge this.
I'd love to talk more.
Peter De Long
I often find parents feel that they have lost control of caregiver decisions regarding their children. Suddenly...the family is faced with a service provider who often times is perceived as being able to better manage their child. Parents feel like they have failed to be the caregiver that their child requires. Parents do know their children better and are the experts on them. With this knowledge, parents may have power struggles with service providers who are now telling them what their child needs. Giving up the power and control over decisions regarding their child has to be absolutely agonizing for parents. Although parents may appear to be uncooperative at times...they are really often trying to grasp at just a little something that they control. I find it helpful to identify something that the family can be involved in. Sometimes they just need a little something to hold onto. We cannot take away the pain that they are dealing with...but we can try to understand how hard it is to let go of your most prized possession.
Letting go can be one of the most challenging obstacles in life...regardless of what you are letting go of.
We have to remember that these parents are usually uncooperative as they either have their own issues or see Child and Youth Care workers as the bad guys. I think it is important to establish a good rapport with these parents as they do know their child better than anyone else and will have a lifelong connection with their child in one form or another.
I think the approach is important when your trying to build some form of relationship with the parents. Also expect them to have their guards up and will be defensive. Try to reassure them that their cooperation is important for the assistance to help better their child. Think of it like build a relationship with one of your youth. They are a vital part of the treatment team.
Hope that helps
Just to add to the conversation – when the home that I was managing changed its focus from the child to the family and the preservation thereof we found that change occured. The change resulted in the way we as staff perceived parents and their role and hence we began to inlcude them in every point of the child's life.
This led to the parents becoming a true part of the team and staying actively involved in their child's life. Their previous negative attitude changed as they began to also feel valued and not rejected. This resulted in
more successful family reunification.