The Social Work Interview
The social and development background of all the family members and the evaluation of the home environment are generally done by obtaining a social history. Information about the family such as who lives in the home, extended family relationships, parent's culture, educational background, employment, health, and mental health provides a background for the remainder of the interview.
Examples of questions that may be asked during the social work interview include the following:
- What parents/care providers hope to gain from this evaluation?
- What concerns do they have of their child's development or behavior?
- What is their understanding of their child's developmental, behavioral and functional status?
- What diagnoses do parents/care providers suspect, what labels professionals have used, what is their understanding of these diagnoses and how do they feel about them.
- How do the parents/caregivers describe their child's strengths and limitations?
- How do they perceive their child's disability, how does the child perceive himself or herself?
- Does the family's culture impact their perception of their parenting practices, and access and use of services?
- What impact does their child have on family functioning: daily activities, social activities, and leisure time activities?
- How supportive are extended family, friends, and agencies and whether they are supportive or not.
- What is the parents/care provider's experience and ability to obtain and use available community resources?
During the interview, the social worker should screen for "red flags" or issues of concern that need to be further investigated. Most children, including those with developmental disabilities, receive adequate care from their parents or caregivers, while some children may not receive adequate care. Examples of areas that may require further investigation:
- Concerns expressed by parents/caregivers about the child's behavior:
Any concerns expressed about a child's behavior are taken seriously. A child
with mental retardation, autism, learning disability, or attention deficit
hyperactive disorder may present with behavior problems that parents described
as defiant, aggressive or temper tantrums, etc. where in fact, the behaviors
are related to the child's disability and possibly unrealistic expectations.
Mild disabilities may not be easily detected and undesirable behavior may
be mistakenly attributed to the child's character.
- Suspicions of Child Abuse or Neglect: Social workers
are mandated reporters and are required to report all cases of suspected
child abuse or neglect to Child Protective Services (CPS). Child abuse or
maltreatment includes physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse,
and general, medical and educational neglect. Children with disabilities
may be at risk for maltreatment. Undesirable behavioral characteristics
related to a disability may be mistakenly attributed to the child's character.
- Parental intellectual limitations: Factors that should
arouse concerns about parental intellectual limitations include:
- parents who have been in special education classes or did not graduate from high school
- erratic appointment-keeping
- inability to complete simple forms
- difficulties using public transportation
- vague responses to basic questions
- failure to follow through with directions or non-compliance
- always being accompanied by another adult
Parents with intellectual limitations may have less positive parenting practices, lack awareness of their children's needs, and may lack the skills they need to advocate for their child's needs. Parents with intellectual limitations are often eligible for community resources and should be referred for appropriate services.
- Parental Depression: Parents who are depressed often are less able to provide structure or to modify the behaviors of their children. They may appear withdrawn and lack energy and thereby pay little attention to, or provide inadequate supervision of, their children. They may also lack the energy to advocate for their child's needs.
- Inappropriate Disciplinary Practices: There is a great deal of controversy about ways to discipline children. For children with developmental disabilities, the child's developmental stage and mental age needs to be considered when determining discipline techniques. Use of disciplinary spanking should be discouraged for any child who is already demonstrating aggressive behavior or has experienced abuse or neglect.
Center on Human Development and Disability,
Clinical Training Unit, University of Washington,
Box 357920, Seattle, WA 98195-7920 firstname.lastname@example.org