Children's Voice September/October 2007

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Core Teaming Values

The Massachusetts Department of Social Services follows a set of core values when incorporating teamwork into their daily work. Harry Spence, the former Commissioner of DSS, further explained these values during a CWLA Competence on Call teleconference last year.
  • Caring for the caregivers is central to teaming. Spence explained, "I heard a great trauma expert who said, 'You can only do trauma work in teams,' and child welfare work is trauma work."

  • Learning. "You won't support families effectively and powerfully if you simply follow a prescribed recipe," Spence said. "The complexity of human misery is too broad...you need to be a professional who exercises discretion and, therefore, is constantly engaged in learning. And learning is a collective and social activity...We don't learn well in isolation."

  • Collaboration isn't just about working in teams, Spence pointed out. "In a family-centered practice model, our role with the family is a role of partnership in support of the family efforts to improve their parenting. So it's a collaborative partnership, ultimately, in which we need to be partnering with the family. Yet, we give no training to our workers, nor does the workplace in any way develop the skills of collaboration when the worker works as an isolated social worker with [his or her] own isolated set of cases."

  • Continuity of relationships. Teaming provides for this when workers work on a team together and that team works with families.

  • Mutual accountability. Teaming encourages this not only among team members, but also between the teams and the families they work with.

  • Speed and intensity of intervention. "We are pushing hard for teaming to be one of a number of supports that moves services in as quickly as the need is clearly identified," Spence explained. "Cases close faster as a result."

  • Workload equity. "This is a business where I may need to spend 20 hours this week on this family, and 20 hours the next week, and then it may suddenly taper off," Spence said. "When you have an isolated social worker, how do they expand themselves to respond to an expanding caseload?...By having teams, they can allocate resources among people by moving people around on the task as the work increases and diminishes, and they can do so in a way that allows them to equitably distribute workload."

  • Choice. In a teaming environment, Spence said, "the family is not viewing the social worker coming through the door as the tyrant who will hold their entire life in their hands. Instead they meet two people, and they have some hope that if one can't hear them, maybe the other can, and it's led to greatly improved relationships with families."

  • Diversity of staff allows the team to be culturally competent.

  • Humility. Working in a team context allows workers to admit they don't know everything, which promotes continual learning.

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