Using Networks and Networking
Clients with multiple problems and needs are increasing. An abusive mother may require income assistance, job training, day care, psychosocial therapy, parenting education and skills, and other social supports to change her behavior. If the father is present, family therapy may be needed. If not, she may need assistance in obtaining absent parent financial and social supports. Rarely are all needed services available from a single agency; usually they must be obtained from many autonomous organizations. The social worker and the client will need to construct and manage a service network. Whittaker, Garbarino, and associates (1983) and others (Payne, 2000; Travillion, 1999) hold that assessing, developing, and managing social networks and assisting clients in their assessment, development, and management of social networks is the crux of social work practice. Client needs generally do not coincide with a single agency's service packets. The sheer number of agencies with varying service arrangements and regulations and a client's informal social supports generates management complexity for the individual client and social worker and demands commensurate network management skills. Networks are equally important to macro community practice, which largely consists of building and managing social networks. Social workers network when they refer clients to other agencies, help clients develop social supports, and work with social action coalitions.
Castelloe and Prokopy (2001) describe a networking use in community development. In recruiting, a 60-year-old Native American had the edge because of her informal community networks:
All of the staff recognized that Ms. Helen was so successful because she had spent her entire life in the community …, because she had spent the previous decade (following her retirement …), volunteering intensely … Through this volunteering, Ms. Helen had become what she called a “community mom. ” Everyone in the community knew her, and her successful recruiting was largely the result of her reputation and her ability to draw upon the network of relationships that she had developed over the course of her life. … The staff viewed knowing people, being tied into local social networks, as more important than sharing the ethnicity and culture of the community. (p. 34)
Networks and networking are inherent in social work's emphasis on the client's social ecology, service coordination, and the holism of social work's person-in-environment (P-I-E) perspective. The more critical form of networking for clients and community residents is with their primary and secondary social supports. Family, friends, and neighborhood organizations pro-