In career counseling, we often talk about the importance of having a professional network. This network results in a mutually beneficial relationship in the world of work. I am glad to see that more and more, we are also stressing the importance of people building their social support network. In fact, in my community there is now a program that helps people in poverty increase their social support network.
When my car breaks down and is in the shop for a couple of days, I can rely on a handful of friends and my family (my social support network) to help me continue to get to work on time. This makes it so that one emergency does not make me risk losing my job. Likewise, I can help my family and friends with obstacles that may come up for them. Each one of us has something to offer to other people. The clients I am working with have great ability to help others with: parenting, creating beautiful hair designs, proof reading documents, car repairs, translating documents to another language, computer repairs, etc.
There are patterns I see with my clients that do not have a social support network. If their car breaks down, they don’t have another way to get to work or important appointments. Their life is on pause until they get their car fixed. This makes it difficult to gain momentum as we work towards goals. Another difficulty is with having reliable child care. In order to keep a job, a person has got to make sure to attend work on time and not accumulate absences. This means they must have reliable transportation and if they have children, make sure they have a child care plan and a back up child care plan.
It’s helpful to talk to clients about where their support is coming from and if that support is working for the client. Questions to consider with the client might be: Who do they go to when something unexpected happens? How are mutually beneficial relationships developed? What are some signs to look for in a positive social support network relationship?
With my clients that are working their way out of poverty, the ones that seem to make more progress are those that have a deep supportive network made up of reliable family and friends. Not only does this social network provide my clients with emergency transportation and child care, but also emotional support, friendship, and a shoulder to lean on. A social support network provides a safety net that we all need, as life is unpredictable.
What are some ways you work with your clients to expand their social support network?
Jackie Torres is a counselor in Colorado with a particular interest in the world of work. She enjoys helping people find what makes them feel strong and energized at work. She is also learning to play the guitar.