A model of intervention

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Australian Social Work

ISSN: 0312-407X (Print) 1447-0748 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rasw20

Centrelink: how social workers make a difference for young persons. A model of intervention

Jane Squires & Natasa Kramaric-Trojak

To cite this article: Jane Squires & Natasa Kramaric-Trojak (2003) Centrelink: how social workers make a difference for young persons. A model of intervention, Australian Social Work, 56:4, 293-304

To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1447-0748.2003.00092.x

Published online: 14 Oct 2010.

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Keywords brief casework, social work skills and

interventions, young persons.

Introduction Social workers at Centrelink fulfil a number of roles. Their primary role is the provision of

casework services with a broad range of clients in need of support, as well as consultation to customer service officers, working in partnership with community agencies and involvement in managerial functions. According to Centrelink’s social work information system, a large proportion of social workers’ caseload and referrals is focused on mandatory assessment of young persons under 18 years of age who apply for the ‘Unreasonable to Live at Home’ rate of Youth Allowance. This rate is based on meeting the criteria of independence because of extenuating circumstances within the parental home.

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Centrelink: how social workers make a difference for young persons. A model of intervention Jane Squires and Natasa Kramaric-Trojak

It is mandatory for social workers at Centrelink to interview and assess under 18-year-old youth who are applying for the ‘Unreasonable to Live at Home’ (UTLAH) rate of Youth Allowance. The aims of this research project were to identify and describe social work models of intervention when interviewing young persons who applied for UTLAH payments and to examine the way in which social workers developed a response to organisational and legislative changes. The qualitative research consisted of two components: field observations of social work interviews with claimants and an open-ended questionnaire completed by social workers after the observed interaction. The research confirmed the hypothesis that parts of a number of social work interventions could be combined and used to effectively assess and assist clients within the prescribed short-term approach. In addition, it supported the researchers’ belief that social work models of intervention could be adapted to organisational and environmental changes. A potential challenge for social workers at Centrelink is to produce a brief social work model of intervention that is flexible enough to be used by professionals across sectors.

Jane Squires works as an Out of Home Care Casewroker at the Department of Community Services in the Hunter area. Email: Jane.Squires@community.nsw.gov.au Natasa Kramaric-Trojak works as a Social Worker at Centrelink in the Hunter area. Email: natasa.kramaric-trojak@centrelink.gov.au

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The assessment of under 18-year-old UTLAH claims encompasses an interview with the young person, followed by telephone contact with each parent and a third party to establish a broader understanding of the client’s home situation and well-being. Interviews, which are one component of this assessment, are often carried out in a single session which generally lasts up to one hour. Within this hour it is essential that workers assess clients’ social and personal circumstances against an expansive eligibility criteria, as well as to provide emotional support, offer family mediation or reconciliation and referral to other agencies relevant to the clients’ needs. Referrals are often made for services that can provide specialised assistance around issues of accommodation, counselling, child protection, employment, education, mental health and substance abuse. This research was focused on identifying and describing social work interventions used during the client interview stage.

Literature review The requirement to fit a large amount of work into a short time frame, according to Sach and Newdon (1999), supports the wide spread push for economically focused ideals that promote efficiency. Agencies are pressured to work more quickly, with reduced staff and resources and to deliver services at the lowest practicable cost in order to be financially viable (Rowlands 2000). The joint issues of accuracy and accountability have become a high priority in many agencies,

including Centrelink. The increased responsibility for social workers at Centrelink is a result of the introduction of payment and privacy delegations in 1998. The delegations gave social workers, who hold a certain level of experience, the authority to make decisions about client eligibility for payments. Furthermore, the policy requires that correct decisions be made within a specified time frame to ensure a high quality standard of social work service within Centrelink (Business Partnership Agreement with FACS 2000, unpublished report).

A review of the literature indicated a lack of information relating to specific single-session social work interventions, such as those used in Centrelink. Godfrey (1999), who researched brief therapy in Centrelink, also noted the inability to locate relevant studies. She concluded that some elements of solution-focused/brief therapy were used in Centrelink and were appropriate for certain client groups. Her suggestion was that more research would be beneficial to define and articulate an appropriate practice framework for Centrelink that could be adapted to changing environments.

Richmond (1999), in contrast, analysed the limitations of the model of service delivery used when working with young persons and their families within Centrelink. She emphasised that the model was based on an ‘income support framework’, which imposes restrictions on the social workers’ flexibility to implement professional skills. Her recommendation was for a new service delivery model that focused more on a holistic, individualised approach to meet clients’ needs rather than simply assess them for income support. Since

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1999, however, Centrelink has implemented changes to achieve the provision of a more holistic service for its clients, by acknowledging that individuals have varying needs and require not only income support, but different types of assistance. Social workers within Centrelink now focus on providing a personalised service which explores clients’ needs, social circumstances and options before assisting them to develop action plans (Centrelink Social Work Services Directions, 2000, unpublished).

Based on the researchers’ understanding of this involuntary client group and the social work roles in face-to- face interviews with young persons, it was hypothesised that a generalist practice encompassing a brief-eclectic model of intervention would be used. The time allocated for interviews meant that brief intervention would be essential, as the beginning, middle and end phase of the interaction are generally performed within a single session.

Models of intervention often related to brief therapy are crisis, task centred and solution-focused models (Sheafor, Horejsi & Horejsi 2000). It was expected that social workers at Centrelink would use this and other models to address the varying issues presented by this client group. Combining aspects of different models represents an eclectic model of social work intervention (Payne 1997). An eclectic model is flexible and allows individual workers to customise their intervention to most effectively address the cases they encounter (Payne 1997). Such a model is commonly applied by social workers who exercise generalist practice (Meyer & Mattaini 1995; Sheafor et al. 2000).

Aims There were two aims for this research project. First, to identify and describe a social work model of intervention when interviewing young persons applying for the ‘Unreasonable to Live at Home’ rate of Youth Allowance. Second, to examine how social workers adapted their practice in accordance with both organisational and broader social changes.

Method

Design

Qualitative research methods, which combined the techniques of semistructured observations performed by the researchers and reflective questionnaires completed by social workers, were undertaken to address the aims of the research. Using both techniques allowed the researchers to compare their outcomes with the reflections of social workers. These two perspectives contributed to the objectivity of the data.

Participants

Participants were social workers from Centrelink customer service centres who volunteered to take part in the research. Specific customer service centres were chosen because of their close geographical proximity, which allowed researchers to complete the project within the time frame of field placement. All 19 social workers in the targeted areas agreed to participate, however, four were unable to take part in the research because of limited time and client non-attendance. Fifteen

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workers were involved in the project, three men and twelve women who had varying degrees of social work experience, as well as lengths of time spent working within Centrelink.

Instrumentation

The semistructured observations involved identifying material that fitted into the predetermined categories, combined with the opportunity for recording any other relevant data not previously categorised. The categories, which were determined by researchers before conducting observations, included issues addressed in the process of the interview, the social work skills implemented, the models of intervention used and the theoretical basis underpinning practice.

Questionnaires were anonymous and contained mostly open-ended questions. They were created to gather social workers’ reflections on the intervention models and skills used during their interview, an opinion of the most effective interventions for this client group and their individual level of satisfaction with the opportunities to implement interventions and skills. Information was also requested regarding the workers’ understanding of their role, the effects of policy and organisational changes on social work practice and any factors that impact on interactions with these clients.

Data collection

Researchers sent social workers information regarding the research project. Follow up phone calls were used to confirm workers’

agreement to participate and to schedule appointment times for observations. Twenty-six observations were carried out. Social workers were observed by one researcher on each occasion, with the exception of two interviews, which included both researchers. The reason for these joint observations was the lack of relevant interviews during the time allocated for the research. This proved to be beneficial in that it was possible for the researchers to crosscheck their data.

Questionnaires were given to social workers after the observed interviews and were required to be returned within the following week via internal mail to ensure anonymity. A total of 13 questionnaires were completed and returned.

Data analysis

The data was recorded and analysed manually by the researchers. Data from the observations was organised into the predetermined categories, whereas the data from the questionnaires was arranged according to the main themes arising from each question.

Ethical considerations

Social workers were informed that all information received from the research would be confidential and that either the worker or the client were free to withdraw from the research at any time. Before observing interviews social workers were asked to obtain verbal client permission for the researchers to be present during interviews. It was explained to the clients that the focus of the research was on the social worker and that their participation

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would not impact on the outcome of their claim.

Research limitations

Because of the limited amount of time allocated for the research project,

there was no opportunity to pretest or conduct substantial reviews. The time restrictions also impacted on the size of the sample and the extent to which the topic area could be broadened.

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Table 1. Interview Results

Categories Observations

Issues Addressed Introductory Issues: Greeting, worker’s role, process of assessment, payment types, client’s obligations, privacy and confidentiality, process of appeal, administrative assistance with forms, client’s right to decline answering questions and the consequence of this action, worker’s note-taking, contact details for parents and third parties. Family Situation: Family structure, relationships, support types, contact (frequency), parent’s employment status, drug & alcohol issues, mental health issues, police involvement, attempts at mediation and/or counselling. Reason for Leaving Home – Specifics of Conflict: time frame of conflict, type-verbal, physical, emotional, severity, violence/safety issues, responses to conflict, coping mechanisms. Mediation: Referral to reconnect service, conflict resolution, advice, counselling. Supports: Family, friends, school, professionals, other. Accommodation: Stability, safety, appropriateness, satisfaction, options. Education: Literacy/numeracy skills, personal goals, barriers, options. Employment: Referral to Job, Placement, Employment and Training, work conditions, wages, harassment issues, options. Ending: Worker’s contact details given, client’s questions, youth info card.

Social Work Skills Engagement, information sharing, clear language, respect, genuineness, warmth, attending, active listening, empathy, focusing, non-judgemental attitude, immediacy, mirroring/matching, questioning, clarifying, understanding, working through client resistance, concreteness, education & advice, empowerment, reframing, validation, encouragement, acknowledging feelings & strengths, information sharing, referral, visualisation, challenging, probing, advocacy, liaison, investigation, reality testing, self-disclosure, reassurance, negotiation, suggestion, summarising, creativity, imagination.

Models of Intervention Brief casework, crisis intervention, solution-focused, problem solving, psycho-social, assessment, task centred, education, referral, grief & loss, family therapy, empowerment, advocacy.

Theoretical Social work ethics and values, crisis theory, systems theory, role theory, Background life-cycle theory, conflict theory, consensus theory, labelling theory,

Feminist theory, antidiscriminatory, anti-oppressive, strengths perspectives, empowerment, communication theory, case management, narrative theory, structural theory.

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