The conducting and facilitating of interagency case conferences has been an undeveloped (and possible ignored) activity in the local Singaporean Social Service Scene. This is interesting, considering the Person in Environment perspective that social workers adopt as their grand philosophy, and the multiple systems that interact with the people we work with. Training programmes (and even literature) on collaboration have usually tended to just focus on how important collaboration is, and only 2 years back, I had the opportunity to attend a training workshop by Barbara McKay (From the Institute of Family Therapy in London). This was where conversations started on how social workers who facilitate case conferences should move away from promoting monological discourses (where each system would just be pushing their own agenda) towards a dialogical one, where dialogue and discussion is promoted towards the aim of supporting the people we work with.
Yesterday I had a chance to train under Neil Carver-Smith, who trains coordinators under the Strong Families Programme in Western Australia. StrongFamilies is basically a process where a coordinator (or case conference facilitator) will bring in the various systems that are involved with the family. They would conduct and facilitate case conferences with the family to address issues and actions required to support the family towards their desired outcomes. The role of the facilitator is not so much to just advocate for the family (which we sometimes tend to just blindly do without hearing the views of the other systems), but more to facilitate discussions and move towards achievable outcomes for the family within the boundaries of social service resources.
As I reflect on the training conducted, I have also identified a few principles or pointers that stood out for me should we facilitate interagency case conferences in the future.
- Respect the client system. The facilitator is to ensure that clients are identified as persons in the system and not reduced to just a statistic or a label. The family needs to be involved in the planning process as decisions made would influence them the most. The venue itself has to be safe and unimposing to the family.
- Taking authority in the case conference. If you are the chair of the facilitator, it's generally your show and your rules. You need to be assertive to control the meeting, and ensure it doesn't go off track. A good starting point would be "What would be a good thing that could come out of this meeting?"
- Be inclusive. You need to be aware of who is contributing in the meeting, and give voice to those that may not seem to be contributing much (either by choice or not). As mentioned earlier, the family's voice would also need to be heard and their opinions and contributions considered.
- Responsiveness. The actions that need to be taken after the case conference is important. they need to be clear and time specific (e.g. I will check whether family is suitable for rental housing by next week), and they need to be minuted (by an assigned note taker), signed off and followed up.
- Focus on future steps. The conferences should not be bogged down by what happened in the past within the family system or between the family and other systems (or between systems for that matter). The key agenda should be: how do we move on from here, and what needs to happen by when?
- Be prepared. Facilitators need to be aware of the family issues, their history and relationship with the systems to anticipate issues that may crop up during the meetings. Ensure paperwork is sent out before the meeting, and all those who need to be involved are involved in the meeting.
What else do you think should be added to this list? Feel free to email me?
On another thought, I wonder whether a document could be created to underlie some key principles of the case conference that could be sent out to the various systems and points of contacts. This would help set the tone for an open, honest, and productive case conference.