Social care is a relational practice and relationships are fundamental to the work that we do. Taking the time to develop a trusting and respectful relationship with a service user is a big part of working in social care, and can be considered an intervention in its own right. When we look at outcomes and we think about what works, sensitive and attuned relationships are extremely important. Service users are more likely to be open and honest (leading to a more accurate understanding of their needs) and are more likely to engage with you and the intervention if you have taken the time to build that meaningful relationship. Healing happens through relationships and to paraphrase a quote by Bessel Van der Kolk, (human) connection is the most powerful mental health intervention known to man.
However, building meaningful relationships is not without its challenges. We should not expect that people we work with should be in relationship with every staff member- this would be an unrealistic expectation. Furthermore, people we work with may have complex life histories or challenges within relationships that have shaped how they view the world and who they are in it. Relational trauma, particularly in childhood, can have a significant and lasting effect, and impact on an individual's ability to form relationships, to trust others, to communicate their needs and to understand the needs of others. So the concept of 'relationship' is easy to articulate, but perhaps a little more difficult to enact. With an emphasis on relationships, we shift the focus from 'doing' to 'being'; to how we do what we do and how we are within that professional relationship.
Check out the following resources to learn more about relational practice:
Byrne, J. (2016). Love in social care: Necessary pre-requisite or blurring of boundaries. Scottish Journal of Residential Child Care, 15(3). ISSN: 2051- 5804. Available from: https://www.celcis.org/application/files/5116/2308/4011/2016_Vol_15_3_Byrne_J_Love_in_social_care_Necessary_pre-requisite_or_blurring_of_boundaries.pdf
Ingram, R. & Smith, M. (2016). Relationship-based practice: emergent themes in social work literature. Insights 41. Iriss. Available from: https://www.iriss.org.uk/resources/insights/relationship-based-practice-emergent-themes-social-work-literature