Postprint of: Reimer, EC 2014, 'Using friendship to build professional family work relationships where child neglect is an issue: worker perceptions', Australian Social Work, vol. 67, no. 3, pp. 315-331.
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Effective working relationships are those which are characterised by close personal contact, even friendship-like in nature, contained within professional boundaries. However, such personal ways of working remain a contentious aspect of professional relationships. Indeed, workers operating in this way commonly experience disapproval from colleagues. Guidance regarding how workers build personalised professional relationships while operating in a disapproving environment is limited. This is even more pronounced for building relationships with families where child neglect is an issue. This paper draws on a study of perceptions of eight parent–family worker relationship cases in New South Wales, Australia. The study utilised qualitative research methods to analyse and compare participants' perceptions of the experiences and meaning of working relationships with families where child neglect is an issue. The paper will explore how the workers' use of friendship-like characteristics to build highly personalised, yet professional and ethical, relationships created discord with some colleagues, including accusations of unprofessional and unethical practice. Drawing on these workers' experiences, along with literature that challenges traditional ways of working with clients, it will be argued that dominant ideas about ethical and professional practice hinder the development of effective relationships with clients, create unnecessary stress for workers, and should be challenged.