Maybe the family was referred to your program by the court system. Maybe the mother made the referral because a grandparent was pressuring her. Maybe the doctor made the referral even though the father wasn’t really interested.
Whatever the reason, there are some families who enroll in early intervention but who really don’t want to be there. Accepting early intervention services is voluntary for families but in some situations, it might not feel that way. Families who are referred as a condition of their work with child protective services really do have the right to decline our services but declining could have important negative consequences for the family. The same could be said of a family who enrolls just because of an insistent relative or physician.
Building the Partnership
Since early intervention uses a family-centered approach and emphasizes an active parent-provider partnership, it is crucial that we find ways to help families feel comfortable, be engaged in the process, and feel like they have choices in how they participate. This can be a challenge because, in many of these cases, the relationship can get off to a strained start. Here are some tips to help build the partnership:
Put it all “out on the table” – Ask the parent about what she knows about early intervention, why her child was referred, and what she would like to get out of by being in the program. Sometimes putting things “out on the table” can be a good place to start. Explain the parent rights and be sure that she knows that EI is a voluntary program.
Work hard to build a respectful rapport – Take the time to get to know the family and leave your biases at the door. When families come to EI from the court system or based on a complicated referral, it can be easy to make assumptions. Treat the family with respect, hear their concerns, and keep the partnership as your focus.
Recognize family strengths – Point out what the parent does well, what you see that the child enjoys, and when you notice progress. Look for the positives and build on family strengths because your long-term goal is to build the parent’s capacity to meet the child’s needs, eventually without your support.
Check in often about priorities and needs – Child and family needs can evolve and be complicated so check in often with the parent and other team members. If you are the service provider, check in often with the service coordinator too.
Foster open communication while being mindful of boundaries – Let the parent know when you’ve talked with the social worker or physician, and do this regularly. If a grandparent is involved, be sure that you have the parent’s consent before you talk to him/her. If you feel that information being shared by the parent is beyond the scope of the support you can provide, talk to the parent about options for support in their own network of family and friends, as well as outside support such as counseling. The service coordinator is the go-to person for linking families to resources and helping them build their network.
Respect family choices – In the end, the family may choose to be discharged from the program. This can be difficult for service providers who want to help the family and are worried about the child. If the family chooses to leave, provide information about other resources and invite the family to call you if they change their minds. You can use your open communication to talk about their choice, but in the end, it’s the family’s to make.
What other strategies do you use when building partnerships with families? How do you build rapport when the family doesn’t seem to want you there?
This situation is further complicated, at times, when the family is required through a protective order to comply. Honesty with the family and expressing that we are here to support, not judge, does go a long way. We are always up front with families about why we are there, who referred them and why, and how we can help!
Great points, Chris! Honesty from the beginning is so important. When families have had stressful experiences with other agencies, it really can take some extra work to help them see that we are partners there to help them, and not judge, like you said. Thanks!