Strategies to facilitate successful collaborations with caregivers

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Collaborating with caregivers and other stakeholders is a necessary component of behavior analytic service provision.  Stakeholders are typically responsible for seeking out and funding services provided to the client.  Stakeholders close to the client, such as parents or teachers, may also function as primary behavior change agents.  It is apparent from the various stakeholder roles that the establishment and maintenance of good rapport with stakeholders is essential to the efficacy of behavior analytic services.

How does one arrange for successful collaborations throughout the provision of services?

You can start by engaging in activities similar to those conducted during initial direct client sessions.  That is, start with rapport building.  Establishing rapport is typically recommended as the first step in the provision of behavior analytic services.  The goal is to establish yourself as a reinforcer for the purpose of facilitating program efficacy.  Of course establishing rapport with stakeholders will not consist of the same behaviors as rapport building with direct clients.  During initial sessions with stakeholders, you should focus on smiling, making eye contact, and listening to stakeholders (Bailey & Burch, 2010).  Listening activities might include acknowledging stakeholders’ concerns by paraphrasing what they have previously said.

Once you are ready to implement the intervention, set stakeholders up for small successes.  You can do this by assisting them with minor environmental arrangements that are likely to be quickly reinforced.  Keep in mind these activities do not have to be directly related to the client.  For example, I once taught a caregiver how to put appointments and set reminders in the calendar on her phone.  She had difficulty keeping track of appointments and often double booked herself.  The few minutes I spent with her on the activity prevented future double bookings and the associated missed appointments.  The activity also functioned as a rapport builder for me.  By assisting stakeholders with procedures that are both easily implemented and likely to produce quick results, you work to promote the stakeholders’ confidence in your abilities.  During the later stages of service provision, stakeholders may demonstrate patience with procedures yielding delayed results as they begin to trust your recommendations.  Rapport building activities should continue throughout the course of service provision.  In addition to the previously stated activities, one should deliver praise and positive feedback for stakeholder contributions, strengths, and successes.

Rapport building is only one set of behaviors involved in fostering successful collaborations. Setting expectations and relevant goals during the initiation of services will also facilitate positive stakeholder relations. When setting expectations, you can briefly explain the nature of behavior analytic services by describing how you will provide services to the client.  You should discuss your expectations of relevant stakeholders throughout the provision of services, as well as what they should expect from you.  Adherence to our standard of social significance requires that program goals correspond with clients’ and/or stakeholders’ goals (Wolf, 1978).  Be sure to consider stakeholders’ values when setting goals.  Prioritize treatment goals by considering how much time is allotted for the provision of services, as you will not be able to address every need at once.  When service hours are limited, you may only be able to effectively target a small number of behavioral concerns.  Stakeholders may request that you address much more than is possible during the allocated service time.  Rather than prioritizing treatment goals on you own, you can include stakeholders in the process by asking them to choose from a list of priorities.

After you have set goals and reviewed expectations, additional actions to promote positive collaborations should occur throughout the intervention phase.  Relevant stakeholders should be made aware of and approve of procedures involved in all aspects of the intervention.  Consider the stakeholders’ ability to implement procedural recommendations.  Be careful not to overwhelm them by suggesting too many changes at one time.  When recommending multicomponent interventions, you can set stakeholders up to successfully follow-through by gradually assigning more intervention components as stakeholders proficiently execute them.  Further into the intervention phase, the practitioner who has established and maintained good rapport with stakeholders and has demonstrated successes with the client might be asked to address additional behavioral concerns.  In cases where the practitioner is unable to accommodate additional targets, the practitioner may continue to facilitate collaborations by orienting stakeholders back to previously agreed upon goals.  At this time, it may be necessary to reevaluate program goals and relevant stakeholders might be asked to restate their priorities.

The development and maintenance of successful stakeholder collaborations is a process that occurs throughout one’s provision of behavior analytic services.  Activities such as rapport building, setting expectations and goals, and offering choices can facilitate positive collaborations and assist in the delivery of effective services.   What activities have contributed to your successful collaborations?  Comment below and continue following BAM Network!


Bailey, J. S., & Burch, M. R. (2010). 25 essential skills & strategies for the professional behavior analyst: Expert tips for maximizing consulting effectiveness. New York, NY: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.

Wolf, M. M. (1978). Social validity: The case for subjective measurement or How applied behavior analysis is finding its heart. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 11, 203-214.

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