By Intisar Seraaj
Seraaj Family Homes, Inc.’s (SFH) service delivery methodology is based on a family-centered case-planning and case management approach to treatment. We believe “family is the cornerstone of society.” It’s distinct in the way we center our services on family reunification, collaboration with community partners, co-parenting methods between biological families and foster parents, and in the way the company operates with a heavy emphasis on teamwork. SFH employees are encouraged to collaborate with each other and community resources because “we’re stronger together.” Family and community are about teamwork. It provides a special kind of support that is vital in social services.
Why a Family Dynamic is Needed in Social Work
Social services is a difficult field to be a part of! Burnout is common. Human services can be mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausting—just like life. Even if you’re not a social services professional—most of whom have taken courses like sociology, anthropology, or psychology—you still understand that life can be difficult, and you’ve probably come to realize that “people need people.” That doesn’t change in the workplace.
Like life, social services can be exhausting, if you don’t have support. It’s like how life is more difficult for children in foster care when they don’t find a surrogate foster family or a forever home through adoption. So, when our social workers, case managers, and family support workers are in the field sharing the burden of our clients—like how families share burdens—it can be overwhelming on top of their personal lives. But when you exercise teamwork in the workplace, that emotional and mental load is lightened.
Jennifer Cummings, an instructor for our foster parenting courses and a former social worker for SFH’s Oxford, Ala. region experienced how collaboration made a difference within her personal and work life. “You go home at night and you start to feel personally responsible for your mistakes,” Cummings said. She says her region used to have the social workers and case managers doing all the fieldwork by themselves and then the clinical directors did the treatment plans without actually directly dealing with the youth in care they were making decisions for. Then the new regional manager Lisa Williams, Ph.D. stepped in and changed things.
“Dr. Lisa introduced this collaborative effort and changed the whole work environment,” Cummings said. “She came in and put everyone back into their own lane and then made it collaborative. It was a game-changer!” Cummings said employees were making decisions that would affect everyone, so it made more sense for decision-making to be a collaborative effort. She says the teamwork also boosted team morale and they started calling each other in the evenings to debrief with others who understood what they were going through. “Then you don’t have to put all that on your family or yourself,” Cummings said. “It made things so much better.”
Benefits of Teamwork & Collaboration in the Workplace
As said above, SFH is a family-centered agency. When you think of “family,” we often think of a person (biological or non-) who will fully support us, someone we can count on and trust, someone we can vent to, and someone who understands us and knows somewhat of who we are. These are the same qualities you can find in a good business partner, a teammate or a work buddy.
- Having a teammate while out in the field visiting clients, provides safety for social work professionals. You’ll “have each other’s backs” and be “keeping an eye out” for each other.
- Collaborating with a coworker allows you to have collective brainstorm sessions and elevate your strategy and treatment plan. Everyone has different strengths, experiences, and expertise, adding to the greater knowledge bank. On the other hand, everyone also has blind spots, weaknesses, and biases that your partner can check you on.
- Collaboration in an organization assists you in pulling greater resources than you alone might have access to. Collaborators have access to different tools that will produce a better overall result for clients.
- When you have a partner for your cases, you’re able to debrief each other. It’s great to vent to someone who knows exactly what you’re going through because they’re not only in the same profession but were actually working the case with you.
Doing life alone sucks, right?! That’s why we look for friends, spouses, and family in others. It’s the same thing for the workplace. That’s why society came up with terms like “work spouse,” “work friend,” “work family.” We need support! You need someone to help lighten the load, whether that’s through collaboration in a treatment plan, uniting to gather resources, or just to vent to each other. Collaboration and teamwork are integral for social work professionals to avoid burnout and for better overall health.