Meeting the Documented Needs of Clients' Families: An Opportunity for Rehabilitation Counselors

Article excerpt

This article reports the results of a survey study that explored such issues as whether rehabilitation agencies should provide attention to clients' families, and if so, then what kind of attention should be given. Survey results further identified specific problems for rehabilitation counselors when working with families. Utilizing survey information, intervention approaches for rehabilitation counselors are suggested. The implications of survey results for rehabilitation education are also discussed.

John Donne's statement that "No man is an island" applies particularly to persons with disabilities. Disability is really a family affair, and the client's performance in vocational rehabilitation is a function of both the person and the family environment (Tuck, 1983; Kerosky, 1984; Power & Dell Orto, 1986). The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, contains the authority for provision of "services to family members as necessary to the adjustment or rehabilitation of handicapped individuals" (Rehabilitation Services Manual, 1976, p.1539.01). Support for the wisdom of this policy exists in the recent finding that adults with disabilities had greater success getting placed in jobs when their families were integrated into the placement process (Newman, 1988).

While many rehabilitation counselors agree that the family can significantly help or hinder the client's rehabilitation process, most counselors have been either reluctant or unable to have any involvement with their clients' families (Kneipp & Bender, 1981; Power & Dell Orto, 1986). For example, in a recent definition of qualified rehabilitation professional" (Graves, Coffey, Habeck, & Stude, 1987), no mention is made of working with families of persons with disabilities as a required competence. Similarly, when Wright, Leahy & Shapson (1987) identified rehabilitation counselor competencies, only 3 out of 114 items mentioned evaluation of family status, and only one item (#47) dealt with counseling clients' families. A discrepancy evidently exists between research reports citing the need for family involvement and currently accepted rehabilitation practice.

The studies that have identified the needs and/or role of the family in the rehabilitation process are based on single case studies, on samples drawn from one specific agency, or on one individual's experience in working with families (Jacus, 1981; Bray, G., 1980; Eaton, M., 1979; Kerosky, M., 1984; Power & Sax, 1978; Sutton, 1985; Power & Dell Orto, 1986). There have been no studies that have utilized larger data sets and that focus on understanding what kind of attention is needed for the client's family in the rehabilitation process. This article reports the results of a large survey study that explored such issues as whether rehabilitation agencies should provide attention to clients' families, and if so, then what kind of attention should be given. Survey results further identified specific problems for rehabilitation counselors when working with families. The implications of this survey information for rehabilitation education and practice will also be discussed.

Methods

The sampling frame for this research consisted of the mailing list utilized by a rehabilitation training center at the University of Maryland. The Center is a RSA Region III program and directs most of its efforts toward training agency personnel in such areas as vocational evaluation, workshop administration, and supported employment. A two-page questionnaire exploring family issues was mailed to 205 rehabilitation agencies identified as sheltered workshops, state vocational rehabilitation offices and those offering psycho-social rehabilitation programs and/or supported employment programs. The sampling frame did not generate a random sample of agencies. The research design used a process whereby informants are selected precisely because they possess certain characteristics, such as administrators of rehabilitation facilities or supervisors of rehabilitation personnel within a particular agency. …