Debi Van Voorst and her team of social workers know, through experience, that tough conversations lead to trust and produce results for families.
“We work with very vulnerable people in our community in often intense and intimate situations that can turn on a dime,” Van Voorst says from Campbell River’s busy intake and assessment office. “We are the ones who knock on the door first. It’s up to us, as social workers, to have tough conversations.”
She recalls working with a young mom struggling with addiction.
“I had very hard conversations with that mom,” she says. “I challenged her in respectful ways. I reminded her that she couldn’t change what she didn’t acknowledge. I wasn’t critical, I was just honest and transparent with her.”
While the frank talk was tough to have at the time, the result of those conversations was trust. And it was that trust and an ongoing relationship with Van Voorst that helped the mom disclose when she’d “slipped up,” despite knowing there could have been consequences.
“I know it’s cliché to say, but information is power,” Van Voorst says. “Knowing that I can have a conversation on behalf of a child that might help reshape how the parent cares for that child is what keeps me going.”
The approach is bold and when her team came to her with ideas on how to share the impact that those tough conversations can have on them, day in and day out, Van Voorst embraced their feedback. Rather than prescribe a solution, she gave her team the freedom to develop an approach that would better support them. What they came up with were pods, mini teams made up of one senior social worker and one newer social worker who can share caseload responsibilities and complete home visits and make clinical decisions together.
“The pod system gives my team more confidence when visiting clients at their homes and also better assists the family by making sure that parents and children are supported while separate interviews are taking place,” Van Voorst says.
For Van Voorst and her team, having tough, honest and respectful conversations is a risk worth taking when it leads to better outcomes for the children, youth and families with whom they work.
Social Work Week (March 13-19) is an opportunity to honour outstanding social workers throughout the province, and to thank those who make it their life's work to truly make a difference in many British Columbians' lives. To read the proclamation, please visit: http://goo.gl/C0CRZM