Academic journal article Child Welfare

Constructing Genograms with Child in Care: Implications for Casework Practice

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Constructing Genograms with Child in Care: Implications for Casework Practice

Article excerpt

Through case studies, this article highlights the use by caseworkers of genogram construction with children in care. Genogram construction can be an initial engagement tool as well as a way to garner information about the children's view of care and their family systems. It can enhance rapport between caseworkers and children of different ethnicities, support permanency planning efforts for children in kinship foster care, and make it possible for the voices of the children in care to be heard.

Genograms are visual maps that graphically display com.plex multigenerational patterns in families [McGoldrick & Gerson 1985]. Social workers have used genograms in assessment to identify supportive relationships, areas of need, and targets for interventions [Beck 1982, 1987; Hartman 1978]. Developing a genogram with a client can elicit information regarding demographics (births, deaths, marriages, divorces, age, gender), family structures, and relationships among family members (degree of closeness and distance, boundaries, conflicts, allances).

Genograms have been used as tools for assessment and engagement with families and individuals in social work in a variety of practice settings [Guerin & Pendagast 1976; Hartman 1978; Hartman & Laird 1983; McGoldrick & Gerson 1985; Wachtel 1982]. In child welfare, however, genograms have been used primarily with foster parents in adoption planning [Pinderhughes & Rosenberg 1990; Young et al. 1992]. Variations and innovations such as the Time-Line Genogram [Friedman et al. 1988] and the Placement Genogram [McMillen & Groze 1994] extend the use of genograms to other areas in child welfare. These genograms incorporate changes over time, which allow caseworkers to include in them changes of placement and other events in the lives of children placed in out-of-home care. This information can help caseworkers make more accurate assessments of the needs of the children. Despite these advantages, genograms continue to be underused by caseworkers in child welfare and are rarely created in partnership with the children in care.

This article discusses the potential benefits for casework practice of using genograms with children placed in out-of-home care. The process of initiating genogram construction with children in care is first discussed to provide ideas for caseworkers to implement in their practice. Benefits of genogram construction for practice are explored next. Benefits include the use of the genogram as an initial engagement tool with children in care; as a tool to improve caseworker-child rapport, particularly in cases of ethnic differences; as a window for learning about the children's perceptions of their relationships with foster parents or kinship caregivers, birth parents, and extended family members; and as a guide for permanency planning. The discussion in this article is supported by pertinent case studies from a preliminary research study of child well-being that used genogram development as an initial engagement tool with children in kinship foster care.

Initiating Genogram Construction with Children in Care

The case studies reported in this article were drawn from a random sample of cases from a federally funded research and demonstration project to increase the number of children in kinship foster care who exit state custody through adoption, transfer of guardianship, or reunification with parents. The author interviewed three boys and three girls between the ages of 10 and 15 who were in the legal custody of the state child welfare system and living in kinship foster care placements maintained by a voluntary child welfare agency for at least one year. The names and identifying information regarding these children have been altered to protect their confidentiality. The author is Caucasian; all of the interviewed children are African American. The author and children had never met prior to the scheduled interviews. …

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