The present briefing paper explains the concept of family centred practice in the context of child protection, and also provides a summary of the key themes and ideas in family centred practice.
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In addition, this paper illuminates some issues in family centred practice that may require future exploration. The audience for the briefing paper is human service professionals in non governmental organisations specialising in out-of-home care.
Family Centred Practice
Family centred practice is basically an approach that “supports and builds family resilience and strengths utilizing individualised assessments, along with an array of formal and informal services and relationships that are identified and planned with the family (Minnesota Department of Health Services n.d. p. 1).
Nationally and internationally, family centred practice is emerging as the approach of choice in enhancing the safety, permanency, quality of life and well-being of children at risk by comprehensively involving the immediate, extended, adoptive or foster family members in the planning and delivery of child welfare or protection services.
In the provision of out-of-home care to children at risk, family centred practice continues to receive wide-ranging interest not only for espousing beliefs and practices that treat families with dignity and respect, but also for its individualised, flexible and responsive approaches that necessitates information sharing to provide families with the opportunity to make informed decisions (Dunst, 2002).
Consequently, recent legislations on child welfare are increasingly predicated upon strengthening children’s and families’ rights to family centred practice by broadening the responsibility of child welfare/protection agencies to identify and actively engage family members in the provision of care and support to children placed in out-of-care settings (Landsman & Boel-Studt, 2011).
Key Themes & Ideas in Family Centred Practice
Why Family Centred Practice?
Extant literature demonstrates that child welfare policy, practice and legislation “have long reflected a balancing act between the parents’ rights to rear their children as they see fit, the children’s rights to be reared by their parents, and the state’s interest to protect children from perceived danger” (Landsman & Boel-Studt, 2011 p. 20).
The family centred practice, in my view, has gravitated around a focused attempt by interested stakeholders to provide viable solutions to these tensions by supporting children from unstable family backgrounds to attain permanency in their family relationships, achieve maximal physical, psychological and emotional heath and wellbeing, and also live under safe conditions that enable them to conquer their fullest potential.
This theme is reinforced by Madsen (2009), who acknowledges that family centred practice takes into account the interests of all stakeholders by building on family strengths to provide access to a broader range of services, underlining family choice in all facets of care provision, engaging family members on their own turf, and providing flexible funding streams to simplify accessing the required resources.
Descriptors of Family Centred Practice
Successful family centred practices should be “strengths-based, family-driven, culturally responsive, empowerment-focussed and collaborative partnerships” (Madsen, 2009 p. 103).
Families of children at risk must be allowed to have decision-making influence on the scope and intensity of the services targeted at them and their children, not mentioning that these services should be provided preventatively and to whole families rather than to parents or children independently (Green et al., 1999).
Competencies for Workers Engaged in Family Centred Practice
Professionals engaged in child welfare/protection services should demonstrate capacity to:
- conduct child welfare practice in a manner consistent with child welfare values and philosophy,
- identify children who have been physically abused, neglected, sexually abused, or emotionally maltreated,
- conduct family risk assessment in the family’s home and with family members rather than relying on sketchy information to make weighty decisions,
- approach and relate to families in a culturally respectful and competent manner, and (5) work within a community-based system of child protection and family support (IHS, 2008; Saunders, 2003).
Benefits of Family Involvement in Family Centred Practice
The treatment and involvement of family members in family centred practice has been found to be extremely important in positively influencing the stability of children’s placement in out-of-home care settings (Hubberstey, 2001). Through family centred practice, dysfunctional parents are guided by social workers on how to focus on the needs of their children rather than their individual divergences and mistrust.
Not only do family members feel respected by virtue of their engagement in trying to find solutions, but they also learn critical skills in the spheres of “participation, follow-through, decision-making, problem-solving, anger management and so forth” (Hubberstey, 2001 p. 89).
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Additionally, the family centred approach provides an enabling framework through which the cultural context of children assessed to be at risk as well as their families can be better understood.
Examples of Family Centred Practice
Although there is a variety of family centred approaches used in contemporary settings by agencies providing out-of-home care to children assessed to be at risk, the most commonly used include family group conferencing, wrap around, integrated case management, and systems of care (Madsen, 2009).
While family group conferencing is used in child protection services to voluntarily bring together family members, children and a coordinator to plan and make decisions for children assessed to be at risk (Bath, 1994), the wrap around approach involves family members, care professionals and social workers in the development of an intensive, individualised care management paradigm for children with serious and complex needs arising from their home settings and community (Madsen, 2009).
The systems of care basically entail “a service delivery approach that builds partnerships to create a broad, integrated process of meeting families’ multiple needs” (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, n.d. para. 1).
Integrated case management is described as a means by which “practitioners from across disciplines and work settings can work in partnership with each other and with clients, to help achieve better outcomes for children, youth, families and other adults” (Hubberstey, 2001 p. 84).
In the context of child protection, therefore, integrated case management acknowledges that the greater the level of integration and interdependence among the constituents of the family centred practice, the more likely that children’s needs can and will be successfully met.
Questions for Future Exploration
The following questions are identified for future exploration
- What elements need to be added to family centred paradigm to substantially reduce the disruption children experience upon placement in out-of-home care?
- What instruments need to be put in place to ensure assessment of family experiences is objective and without bias?
- What tools need to be adopted in family centred practice to ensure a perfect reunion between children and family members upon successfully dealing with prevailing risk factors?
Bath, R.P. (1994). Shared family care: Child protection and child preservation. Social Work, 39(5), 515-524.
Dunst, C.J. (2002). Family-centred practices: Birth throughout high school. The Journal of Special Education, 36(2), 139-147.
Green, B.L., Johnson, S.A., & Rodgers, A. (1999). Understanding patterns of service delivery and participation in community-based family support programs. Children’s Services: Social Policy, Research & Practice, 2(1), 1-22.
Hubberstey, C. (2001). Client involvement as a key element of integrated case management. Child & Youth Care Forum, 30(2), 83-97.
IHS. (2008). Family-centred approach to child protective services. Web.
Landsman, M.J., & Boel-Studt, S. (2011). Fostering families’ and children’ rights to family connections. Child Welfare, 90(4), 19-40.
Madsen, W.C. (2009). Corroborative helping: A practice framework for family-centred services. Family Process, 48(1), 103-116.
Minnesota Department of Health Services. (n.d.). Family-centred practice guide: Engaging, assessing and building strengths with families. Web.
Saunders, S.A. (2003). Family-centred, neighbourhood-based services: Performance-based behaviours for the child welfare practitioner and community providers. Web.
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (n.d.). Systems of care. Web.