Effectiveness of Relationship-Based Social Work in Caring for Dysfunctional Families: Summary Article

Published: 2021/11/24
Number of words: 2581


Rachel Robbins and Kate Cook (2017) authored the article “Don’t Even Get Us Started on Social Workers’: Domestic Violence, Social Work and Trust – An Anecdote from Research”. The article explores the concept of trust relating to the work done by social workers in child protection against domestic abuse. The authors conducted the study using interviews from women who suffered domestic abuse and requiring child protection services for their children and used the interviews to examine the barriers to trust-building. Robbins and Cook (2017) used the ‘Freedom Programme’ to highlight issues in trust-building in the context of living with abuse, systems set up to provide social work services, wider inequality, and developing an ecological approach towards improving the trust-building process. The authors set apart the argument that social work should be seen as a trauma through which mothers should be helped to overcome.

Freedom Program and Behnia’s Critical Framework

The thematic analysis of the study was conducted based on the conversations on social work and trust issues among women living in abusive relationships. The authors used Behnia (2008) critical framework of trust to develop the ‘Freedom Programme’ developed by Pat Craven and incorporated into Witt & Diaz (2018). The Freedom Programme (FP) is a short course examining the roles of attitudes and beliefs on the actions of abusers, and the reactions by victims of abuse (Robbins & Cook, 2017). Behnia (2008) discusses two levels of trust: initial trust developed at the start of a relationship, and deeper trust facilitates by further disclosure; further espoused in Egan and others (2017). The authors argue that the development of trust from the initial level to a deeper level occurs through the symbolic interactionist approach where the actor in the relationship understands the professional social worker through their self-concept, self-perception and the professional’s identity.

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Relationship-Based Social Work and Domestic Abuse

The authors argue that two contrasting approaches define the relationship between domestic abuse and social workers in their role to help dysfunctional families. The voluntary approach uses expertise from professionals to guide the welfare and rights of women in society; while the statutory approach focuses solely on child protection, risk assessment and investigation (Robinson & Masocha, 2017). The authors argue that models such as the Three Planet Model are applied by social workers to improve the effectiveness of child protection services and to protect women from victimization by employing the trust-building process (Robbins & Cook, 2017).


The authors conducted the research between April and July 2015, involving women. The data collection process includes focus group discussions facilitated by social worker staff, observations of FP sessions at three different venues, concluded by short discussions by participants. Some women were given the opportunity to fill out surveys. The main question requested participants to describe whether social workers, police officers and other professionals understand domestic abuse.

Findings and Conclusion

The authors argue that trust is the first process in relationship-based practises for social workers. However, social workers operate in involuntary environments where child protection is paramount. As such, the social worker must work actively and creatively to build a relationship with the clients (Robbins & Cook, 2017). The social worker needs to balance between child-focus and family-dynamics, specifically based on Rogerian qualities such as empathy, active listening and demonstrating authority in assessing client genuineness (Robbins & Cook, 2017). The authors argue that improving the effectiveness of relationships in social work by limiting focus on physical violence to focusing on the element of coercive control. Robbins and Cook (2017) argue that social workers build relationships by developing social work systems that provide support to families and victims superseding the professional role of social workers.


The understanding of the effectiveness of the formation of relationships in relationship-based social work is crucial in providing social care services to dysfunctional families (O’Leary et al., 2013). To fully understand and comprehend the versatility and breadth of the significance of relationships in achieving positive outcomes, it is crucial to consider some criticisms of the application of relationships in care provision (Shek, 2016). Some of the authors who provide in-depth analyses and criticisms to the use of relationship-based social work are Holt and Kelly (2018) who argue for the limitation to partnership working and the creation of limits to relationship-based approaches with children and families. Additionally, Williams (2019) believes that the use of relationships between the social worker and the victims is important but should be strengthened by involving the family in the provision of support services. The wholesome interpretation of the learning experience from the academic module is explained through the use of Gibbs (1998) reflective cycle which helps in the description of the experience, understanding the feelings and emotions involved, evaluating and analyzing the experience, providing a conclusion of what the experience meant to me, and developing an actionable plan to implement the learned material.

The authorship of Holt and Kelly (2018) describes the association between the social worker and the victim as one where relationships are support parameters but not fully mandated. Further arguments by Darkwah et al., 2016) conclude that social workers should discern whether forming a relationship with children impedes the ability to relate with the care givers and whether the risk of harm to children should overshadow the need for relationship-based care provision. In my reading and understanding of Williams (2019), a restorative approach, regardless of whether relationships were formed or not, should be the paramount goal of social work. However, the main article by Robbins and Cook (2017) poses that relationship-based social work should be understood and implemented by social workers despite the outcomes of the process. The argument is congruent with the conclusion by Forrester and others (2019) who posit that the formation of relationships is an important factor in encouraging victims of sexual and domestic abuse to speak up and express themselves for appropriate action to the betaken.

The work by Robbins and Cook (2017) helps to focus on openness and development of positive perception. Van de Luitgaarden and van der Tier (2016) argue that the social worker and the victim should have an accommodative social understanding where the victim feels free, open and supported in explaining their challenges and problems to the social worker. Allowing the development of social bonds provides social workers and their clients the opportunity to become fully engrossed in each other’s work (Egan et al., 2017). However, a different approach is adopted by the other authors. Reading through Holt and Kelly (2018), I noted a clear disconnection was caused by their focus on legal landscapes. Gibbs (1998) posits that learners must fully be immersed in their thought processes and emotions for full experiential learning of the effects of the material on cognition. Holt and Kelly (2018) argue that legal precepts advocate for the conclusion of legal proceedings in the shortest time possible. Although the breadth and magnitude of the time are yet defined, a maximum of 26 weeks is placed on all court cases based on the Children Act 1989 (Dickens et al., 2019). The work made me feel that the social worker is inadequately supported to create significant relationships during the proceedings of legal action, and the development of bonds is insufficient where children and abusive parents are involved.

Although Williams (2019) actually acknowledge the importance of relationships, I submit that whole-family relationships lack the authenticity and openness required for the development of commitment, communication, honesty and empathy between two individuals. In my evaluation of the two articles in conjunction, it is evident that the criticism offered by Williams (2019) is expounded by Holt and Kelly (2018) who argue that involving the whole family in building relationships results in more negative consequences. Holt and Kelly (2018) posit that involving children and parents within the same relationship will result in poor perceptions of bias by either party. In my evaluation, both Holt and Kelly (2018) and Williams (2019) appear to contradict Robbins and Cook (2017) who fully support the formation of relationships between the victim and the social worker. In their argument, Holt and Kelly (2018) point to the challenges faced by a bias which impedes victims’ ability to fully express themselves knowing that the abuser has a relationship with the social worker. For instance, women facing domestic abuse might fail to become open with social workers because of the perceived positive relationship between the social worker and the abusing spouse.

Specifically, Williams (2019) argue that relationship-based social work should be geared towards the restoration of families with less regard focused on the victim’s perception of the process. The conclusions made by Williams (2019) can be combined with those by Wilkins and Whittaker (2017), and I noted that developing a listening approach, positive praise and family strengths should be encompassed within the wholesome understanding of the family choices rather than the individual. Perhaps in congruence with Robbins and Cook (2017), Holt and Kelly (2018) promote the need for time and the relationships of power in relationship-based practice. The argument by Holt and Kelly (2018) is supported by Balsells and others (2017) positing the argument that relationship-based practices should be geared towards restoration of families, contend that relationships take time and should be appropriately given time and effort by the involved parties. Towards this end, Holt and Kelly (2018) help to analyze the potential impacts of relationships.


Through the reading experience, it is clear that the viewpoints of all authors have some congruence and minor differences. Holt and Kelly (2018), Williams (2019) and Robbin and Cook (2017) argue that relationship-based social work is important to developing restorative approaches to family care, improving the understanding of the family complex and using the diversity of social workers in dealing with each member of the family. From the reading, it is conclusive to note that social workers like is require a sufficient understanding of the social and cultural skills and competencies of each professional.


Based on Gibbs (1998) cycle of reflection, I was able to descriptively understand the conceptual differences between the three authors, and how different their approaches focused on social work. The authorship by Williams (2019) argues that the letter description of relationship-based social work should only be performed where a restorative approach is clearly outlined and preferred. Reading through the material allowed me to reflect on the feelings each argument generated for me. Gibbs (1998) posits that learners must fully be immersed in their thought processes and emotions for full experiential learning of the effects of the material on cognition. After reading the three materials and attending the course module, I was able to evaluate my position on the argument for or against relationship-based social work when providing services to dysfunctional families. Evaluating the work by Williams (2019), the development of whole-family relationships negates from the idea of one-on-one relationship formation between a social worker and a victim.

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Following through the analysis section of Gibbs (1998) reflective cycle, it is paramount that my readership and understand involve the analysis of major portions of the readings. Through the analysis, it is clear that the three authors differ on the importance of relationships on social work advancement of services. I was able to identify outcomes such as improved program delivery, improved education enhancement and appropriate needs for family members. The conclusion of information obtained is encompassed in Gibbs (1998) who notes that the conclusion part of a reflection facilitates a learner to summarize all information and develop one main argument encompassing all major points. In my view, I should learn to incorporate both the individual and the family in developing relationships. Thus, I will utilize the skills learned from the module to create a more inclusive approach to relationship-based practice.

Finally, it is important to develop an action plan based on the learned information. Firstly, I will improve my soft skills and improve my capacity to communicate and interact with family members and victims of various forms of abuse to ensure that they change their interaction and adopt healthier ways of conflict resolution. Secondly, I will apply the knowledge learned to enhance my assessment of children and women at risk of abuse through forming stronger and deeper bonds and establishing better connections to encourage positive perceptions and improve health outcomes. Thus, I will develop an action plan focused on teaching victims on the best way to communicate, the best way to resolve conflicts through communication and to involve each member of the family through the provision of mediated-environments.


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