To do their job well, social workers draw on information and guidance from analysts, community leaders, and health workers, among other professionals. The knowledge they gain from these collaborations can inform their actions and ensure they can get the best possible results for the people in their care. Along with the other practical and soft skills needed to be a good social worker, the ability to work effectively as part of a team is crucial.
The people who play a role in the provision of social care as members of a collaborative team are often referred to as stakeholders. The individuals in this position often include experts from a range of connected fields, people in the support system of a social worker’s client, such as close family or community members, and to an extent, the client themselves.
What do we mean by collaborations?
Teams of this sort are known as interdisciplinary collaborations. They involve the time and commitment of a group of specialists from a range of disciplines. They could come from a public health, psychology, or counseling background. Some have the authority to take on tasks outside of the social worker’s remit, such as physicians, but in the main, they assist the social worker when it comes to delivering the services their client needs.
How does social work benefit from collaborations?
The issues faced by their clients are often complex, and to tackle these, social workers need insight from other disciplines and industries. As part of these collaborations, social workers can access more support and resources. Moreover, by sharing their knowledge as well as the responsibility they have towards their clients, they can work around barriers quickly.
The knowledge pool is extended
When everyone has important and informed views to bring to the table, a problem can be considered from each angle, and smaller details are unlikely to be missed. Asking other professionals for their opinions creates an innovative and open environment. Social workers cannot see every angle themselves, but as part of a team, they have a better chance of doing so.
Responsibility is shared amongst stakeholders
Social work is not easy, but with other people taking on some of the responsibility, it becomes more manageable. Clients are also at an advantage when the support system around them is extensive. For instance, if they need medical assistance, one of the healthcare workers on the team could arrange for that to happen. However, they might be concerned with meeting the cost of a treatment program. If so, a social worker could advocate for them, inform them about programs like Medicaid and connect them to non-profits that might offer financial help. Similarly, social workers involved with child welfare would connect with foster care agencies to search for safe homes for their young clients. Shared responsibilities can result in a more holistic, long-term, and considered approach.
Resources are developed to meet a client’s needs
Partners can offer tools that other people in the team may not know about or be able to access. By bringing together a range of resources, costs can be reduced, and the overarching goal can be reached efficiently. For example, if finding a stable housing solution is a problem for a client, social workers can turn to local housing agency representatives for guidance. They might be able to offer a home that is shared or subsidized or one in which the rent is paid with the help of an assistance program. Alternatively, if someone is in dire need, their application for public housing could be fast-tracked.
Obstacles can be removed
Common barriers to getting things done, such as procedural rules and bureaucracy, can slow down and complicate a social worker’s caseload. When they collaborate with organizations with which they have a pre-existing relationship, it is easier to put these to one side and get on with a solution. Similarly, if a social worker has done all they can for a client and they feel an intervention from another professional is needed, such as specialist mental health treatment, the protocols for arranging a meeting can be navigated smoothly. Ultimately, from the client’s perspective, the more experts available to address their issues, the more comprehensive and sound the solution is likely to be.
Collaboration in practice
Social workers cannot solve all the problems a client is experiencing on their own, but neither can the other professionals involved. In the case of a physician, it is possible to deliver an excellent standard of healthcare, but a social worker may need to fulfill a different role to maintain a client’s health. This could involve encouraging them to take their medication or helping them monitor their progress.
As they begin to work together, social workers and their professional partners will establish which common goal they hope to reach before agreeing on a course of action. They will offer the resources at their disposal and agree to take on a share of the responsibility. Meetings will discuss how each stakeholder expects to rely on the others and exactly what expertise they offer before creating a plan. This means the core issues can be identified and a treatment path agreed upon sooner, so the client’s safety and well-being are assured.
In the case of school welfare social workers, it is community organizers, teachers, and mental health providers who form part of their team. Together they will work out a strategy for the early detection of families and children in need. They will then take on their designated role and responsibility in organizing a service that could be of help. This could mean a parenting program, family counseling, or practical help with managing their money.
What types of professional people engage with social workers?
In essence, teams are made up of people who want to help clients improve their opportunities, making it a very caring and rewarding experience for everyone involved. People who want to make a positive difference in the lives of others and are interested in social work as a career can click here to view Master’s in Social Work programs. At the Florida State University College of Social Work, part-time students can qualify within three years, and as the courses are delivered online, they are ideal for working professionals. In collaboration, the type of professionals who make up an individual team will depend on the social worker’s specialty. Here are some examples.
Healthcare social workers
Healthcare social workers get their clients the medical care they need and provide access to information about health issues. To assess what the client requires, they collaborate with a team that could include nurses, physicians, and the patient’s family. Once this process is complete, the social worker will understand more about meeting the client’s health needs. They will also speak with non-profits and representatives from Medicare to help a client pay for their treatment.
School social workers
To fulfill a range of administrative and counseling activities, school social workers team up with teachers, health professionals, and school administrators. They help students to manage their behavior issues or problems that they are experiencing with their mental health or from their peers. With their team, school social workers design a plan to ensure students can remain in school, study effectively and regain their sense of well-being.
Older adult social worker
The older adult social worker’s role involves being a sensitive listener and allowing the client time to express themselves fully. To support their clients, the practitioner might speak with their physician to learn more about their physical condition and then collaborate with care providers to ensure an appropriate package is in place. If there are conflicts with the family about the best way to care for the client or where they should live, a social worker may also need to speak with attorneys as an advocate.
Are there any challenges to this way of working?
As in any workplace, there can be barriers to interdisciplinary collaborations. These can arise for many different reasons. Often it is because the level of education and training people have will vary. As a result, they may all have a different understanding of the approach to be taken, and their expectations for the outcome will contrast. This can lead to disagreements and people becoming fixed on their standpoints. Some might try to take credit for the endeavors and ideas of others, which will soon become a source of resentment.
Furthermore, team members can become distracted by small details and lose perspective. This leaves the team vulnerable to failures caused by leaving key issues unresolved. Finally, team members might not feel happy about exploring new or innovative possibilities. They may feel more comfortable with what they feel has worked in the past. It can be a frustrating situation for social workers, but they do have strategies for pushing through and getting a positive result.
How social workers can ensure the process is a success
Working together can be a challenge in any field. To get the best out of their collaborations, social workers can do the following:
Get to know the team
The best way to start a collaboration is often by clarifying what role everyone will have in the team. This can be done after discussing what everyone can contribute. Therefore, social workers usually read up on their fellow collaborators in advance to understand more about their scope of practice. It can help to ask people questions about their job or the type of approach they tend to take. Finally, by working out how disagreements will be managed at an early stage, problems can be avoided further along the line.
Be ready to learn
In this instance, interdisciplinary collaborations aim to build healthier communities and promote social justice. As part of the process, social workers can use their knowledge to benefit the team but also be open to learning. To this end, they will present their information clearly, in a way that is transparent and accessible to all. They will be direct in the way they speak with collaborators and acknowledge what they do not know. If it becomes clear that a compromise will have to be reached, a social worker may have to agree but ensure the client’s needs are not compromised.
Have a flexible attitude
People will all have their own approach when it comes to collaborations, and some will feel strongly about how things should be done. In these cases, it can be a good idea to explore alternative approaches rather than risk conflict. Furthermore, social workers need a flexible attitude to learning new things. It is a good way of expanding their current level of expertise and supporting collaboration. Recognizing the different personalities within the team and responding in a positive, flexible way ensures common ground is eventually discovered.
Treat everyone as an equal
Social workers consider themselves equal partners in each team collaboration and treat others as such. In part, this means they need to tackle their assumptions and give everyone a chance to share their views. Moreover, they will avoid making judgments on the opinions of those they disagree with. Instead, they will attempt to maintain a professional rapport and affirm the strengths of everyone present.
What role do social workers play in interdisciplinary teamwork?
Social workers have a special perspective on how the person they are caring for is feeling and how they could be helped by other professionals. Therefore, the insight social workers bring to a collaborative team is unique. This is because they have spent longer with the clients and are trained to grasp their specific circumstances. A person-centered approach means they spot things that other people in the team may not see. From language barriers to financial problems and relationship breakdowns, social workers ensure the team understands the complexities of their client’s struggle. With this in hand, the team can search for solutions and explore different approaches to best serve the client.