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Consider engagement the primary foundation upon which you, the worker, perform your practice. Engagement begins as early as possibly and champions transparency from the outset.
Strong therapeutic relationships stem from honesty and openness – begin with frank conversations about what you’re able to offer the client and what they can expect to achieve through your services and support.
In many ways your role is to offer hope: your expertise, networks and non-judgemental approach are applied when most clients are feeling extremely low, isolated, unheard, stressed, or defeated.
Establish what the client wants and set short-term goals. With small victories achieved along the way, engagement deepens and robust therapeutic relationships develop. Short-term goals might include things such as advocating where removal has occurred for Child Protection to grant your client access; negotiating with Centrelink, job networks or housing services to achieve positive outcomes; engaging other services to establish community connections necessary for a client to parent as smoothly as possible.
During the initial stages of engagement, be mindful of overloading and overwhelming a client with services; instead, select those that are essential and work towards linking in others over time.
How does engagement differ between general youth work and young parents’ youth work?
While closely resembling the kind of engagement key to youth work, working with young parents usually also involves engaging a client’s partner, children or stepchildren and family. This family inclusive engagement is a defining factor of young parents’ programs. You’ll find that the greater number of family members engaged – that is, the more light you’re able to shed on a client’s situation (with their permission) for their support network – the easier it will be to support and guide your client.
Through the course of your work you will find that not all partners or families are easily engaged or wish to be engaged.
With persistence, patience and creative thinking you might be able to negotiate some level of engagement that benefits everyone involved. Be persistent in extending invitations to reluctant parties. For example, regularly invite your client’s partner to meetings with Child Protection or care team meetings to ensure they feel included regardless of their attitude towards services. Often you’ll find a partner’s reluctance softens over time, particularly if they need assistance with a situation that you’re positioned to provide; for example, if a client’s partner turns up to court unrepresented, you will be able to offer support, guidance and connections to trusted legal services.