Assessing a client's need for intervention
How do you assess a client’s need for intervention and the type of brief intervention required?
Let’s begin by recapping the definition of intervention so you are clear about what it really means.
What is intervention?
An intervention is any involvement an agency or worker has with a client. It can be voluntary (where a client seeks or agrees to the intervention) or it can be involuntary or statutory, where a client does not request involvement but workers are legally required to intervene.
Voluntary intervention is the response given to a client when they present with an issue or issues and ask for support from an agency to deal with that issue or issues. When a client presents at an agency voluntarily, or through an advocate, you will need to assess the client’s need and make a decision about how the agency or another service/professional can provide support to meet that need.
Although your agency will need to refer the person on to another agency to meet the presenting needs, you and/or your supervisor may decide that a brief intervention by you and your agency is required before the referring agency picks up the case.
The purpose of a brief intervention is to provide the client with immediate support which will mostly likely focus on providing de-escalation of the problem and emotional support. Brief intervention often relates to:
- financial aid
- emergency accommodation
- court attendance
- medical or legal aid appointments.
Read the case study below and reflect.
Tracey works for a community centre that provides training programs for work readiness. A young Indigenous woman appears at the centre and is interviewed by Tracey. The person is inquiring whether the centre could help her find work. After assessing the woman’s needs and her eligibility for the Work- Readiness Training Program which Tracey was offering, she realises that the young woman would need literacy skills, and, with her permission, refers her to TAFE to be enrolled in a literacy support program.
A statutory intervention occurs when a department or agency has a legal obligation to become involved. This obligation can relate to interventions that may occur:
- before court involvement
- during court involvement
- as a result of court involvement.
‘Level of intervention’ refers to the type of statutory intervention.
It is appropriate to use community support as the sole form of intervention when:
- the client’s needs can be met through the use of the services of a community support agency
- support services are appropriate and available
- the client or significant others acknowledge their need for this support
- the client and/or parent is willing and able to accept referral to an appropriate service.
It would not be appropriate to use community support alone where failure to use those services would result in further statutory intervention.
It is important that any plan put in place sets out the community support, the agency providing it and for how long. As we emphasised in the previous section, the plan is negotiated with your client, significant others and potential service providers. It places obligations on both the client/s and the agencies involved to complete certain tasks and achieve stated goals. This can be done with or without the involvement of a court.
Look at the next example showing a situation where a community support approach would be appropriate and then the reflection that follows.
Leo, aged thirteen, is sexually abused by a family friend who has been living with Leo’s family. Leo tells his parents two days after the event and his parents take immediate action to protect him. They confront the friend and make him leave the home. With Leo’s agreement, his mother contacts the police and their local community services agency. Catriona is the protective worker involved.
The investigation substantiates that sexual abuse has occurred. Leo’s parents ask for help in managing the situation and want Leo to receive counselling.
Reflect on how you might manage this situation.
Referring to Leo’s case just mentioned in the text, what subsequent information might change your assessment of community support being appropriate as the sole form of intervention?
- You may receive a notification from Leo's school that he has been quite aggressive in class and that one of his female classmates has suggested that he touched her inappropriately.
- You might receive word that Leo did not attend the initial counselling session and the police report that Leo is refusing to support his allegation of sexual abuse against the family friend.
Intervention by court order means making an application through a court for statutory intervention, e.g. a Child Protection Order through the Department of Child Safety or a Domestic Violence Order to provide protection for a person against further domestic violence. In the field of child protection, only police or statutory officers can make application to the Children’s Court.
Court-based intervention is appropriate when:
- the client’s needs cannot be adequately met by the sole use of community support services or by voluntary agreement with the family in the case of child protection
- removal from home is necessary to protect the client or child/young person
- the use of planned emergency or short-term care by agreement is inappropriate
- the family is uncooperative in participating in any case plan that offers appropriate protection to the child/young person in relation to child protection
- the client does not wish to remain at home because of a high risk of future harm
- the person who is suspected of the abuse/violence has access to the client and is unwilling to participate in the case plan in the case of child protection, or does not accept that their actions were harmful to the client in the case of domestic violence.
Court-based intervention is used as the last means of achieving protection for the client. An example of an appropriate use of court-based action follows.
An example of an appropriate use of court-based action follows.
A local family support agency contacts Annie, a protective worker, to discuss the Katsoukas family. Annie has had numerous case discussions with the family support worker, due to long-term concerns regarding ongoing neglect of the Katsoukas’ five children.
The family situation has recently deteriorated after a period of positive progress in working with the family. Last weekend, Mr Katsoukas physically assaulted his wife and she was hospitalised. An emergency care placement was arranged for the children with the agreement of both parents
Mr Katsoukas later physically threatened the family support worker. That worker now feels unable to support the family.
Annie seeks the assistance of the police to interview the father. She also visits the mother in hospital and the children in their placement.
The situation is chaotic and difficult to assess. Mr Katsoukas wants to resume care of the children but is not willing or able to cooperate in any assessment process. Two of the children indicate that they do not want to return to the family home. They appeared fearful of their father, without saying why. Previous information shows that Mr Katsoukas was under psychiatric treatment for schizophrenia. Contact with Mr Katsoukas’ mother informs Annie that he is not seeing a psychiatrist at the moment and has recently stopped taking his medication.
With regard to the case study, consider what additional information might influence the Statutory Worker to proceed with an application for a protection order after the Court Assessment Order expires in 30 days.
Non-court based intervention is based on agreement between the client/s and the worker. The agreement may or may not be truly voluntary. Sometimes parents and others agree to intervention to avoid court action or prevent removal of a child from their care. Remember that statutory intervention is involuntary in the sense that the intervention will occur with or without agreement. The agreement will only affect the type of intervention and the options chosen.
Non-court based intervention should be considered when:
- the client is not at risk or future risk
- the client has the ability to make decisions for themselves and be involved in any decision-making processes
- the client is willing to cooperate.
It would not be appropriate to use non-court based intervention when:
- it could place your client at risk of serious harm
- there are high-risk factors associated with the client’s ability to stick to the terms of the agreement, e.g. high mobility or a current history of drug or alcohol abuse.
The following example would be appropriate where non-court based intervention occurs.
Helena, a worker with a community services agency, is on duty when an Indigenous woman comes into the agency for help. She has been trying to look after her neighbour’s three children while she is away at a family funeral. The children are aged five, seven and eleven.
The five-year-old wandered off when she was organising all the children this morning. (She has two of her own). He was found wandering in a park one kilometre from home. (This was apparently a regular event.) This time, the person who found the child took him to the police station. The police arranged for a medical examination and the child was found to be under-nourished.
The family is Indigenous. The neighbour tells Helena that they have recently moved to this inner city suburb from an outback community.
Helena contacts the local Indigenous childcare agency and arranges a joint visit to the family. She discovers that supervision was not an issue in the community that the family had previously lived in. Elders, kin and other community members collectively took responsibility for watching over children. Since moving to the city, the parents have not made any significant contacts in the local Aboriginal community and are isolated. Helena asks an Aboriginal worker to communicate with the family about the protective concerns and the issue of supervision.
Helena remains concerned that the parents do not seem able to comprehend the importance of closely supervising their children.
In consultation with the family, the Indigenous childcare agency worker undertakes to:
- work with the family on this issue and provide appropriate support to the family settling in to the area
- organise for an Indigenous health worker to visit and assess the children
- contact Helena and advise her of the outcome of this assessment and contact further if difficulties arise.
The family agrees to the plan and a review at the family’s home is organised for a month’s time.
Regarding this case study, consider what further information may change your assessment of non-court based intervention being the most appropriate form of intervention.
- The Aboriginal health worker reports that the family is never home when visits have been arranged.
- One of the children is hit by a vehicle after running out onto the road and it appears no supervision was in place.
- The hospital notifies you that one of the children has been admitted to hospital with an STI and the mother can offer no explanation for how the child contracted the infection.