Historically, in order to access help and services from a social service agency, families need to have a problem and already be in a tough situation. However, this approach is highly problematic. It can cause the family to view the support negatively since it is being offered when the crisis has already hit a climax. In addition, the family can view the worker assigned to the case as an outsider thrust upon the family without the family’s consent.
Families often know of the struggles and challenges they are facing long before the conflict boils over. The problem is that they are often at a loss of knowing where to go to get the help they need. Even if families go to their local social service agency for help, the protocol is to first have the family investigated to assess if there are abusive/neglectful behaviors, and only after that is ruled out are they offered services. Unfortunately, this process can take months and the problems can grow.
Preventive services provide families with the option to seek out services through a local community-based organization from a proactive standpoint as opposed to a reactive one. Families can access preventive services by walking into an agency, and preventive providers can provide families with access to services without having to be investigated first. This process helps families to seek the help they know they need without the threat of criticism and judgment of being investigated.
Families having the ability to know of and seek out services for their own problems and concerns further promotes the family’s ability to effectively resolve concerns and develop effective skills to address problems to hopefully prevent the need for a child welfare investigation and intervention at a higher level. It is empowering for families to take the lead in initiating services. It supports their participation in the process because they are given the option and resources to take initiative to address the concerns with which they knew they needed more support.
New York City Children’s Services has been supporting preventive services through local providers for several decades, and within the past five years has built upon their successes through the use of evidence-based models. This is an important example to social service agencies nationwide. Preventive services are essential to removing the stigma that prevents families from feeling empowered to solve their own problems and to seeing social services agencies as their partner in success.