One common topic among professionals is the discussion around family-centred practice. And while each social worker is expected to be able to practise family-centred work, it does look like what is often practised is family work which may not tantamount to family-centred practice.
Family-centred practice includes three key elements: (1) an emphasis on strengths, not deficits; (2) promoting family choice and control over resources; and (3) the development of a collaborative relationship between parents and professionals. It sounds logical but not necessarily intuitive.
The approach for family-centred practice hinges on a way of working with families. It is a systematic way of creating a partnership with families that (a) treats them with dignity and respect, (b) honours their values and choices, and (c) provides supports that strengthen and enhance their functioning as a family1.
Most social workers today start from a strengths-based practice as distinct from the traditional problem-focused approach. But attaining a competency of family-centred practice requires mindfulness about building partnership and sharing power in working with families in a family-centred way as compared to applying a set of specific skills in a professional centred way. There are six core intervention components in such a practice. These are family engagement, teaming, assessing, service planning, intervening and tracking/adjusting or closure. They may be taught or called different names but these in essence are involved in the intervention.
1. Skills needed for family engagement or setting goals with children, youths, families
Social workers work with families to set mutually acceptable goals by developing an initial working agreement with families about the issues to be addressed. They also identify with the family what success will look like so that the family will know what is expected of them and when they have achieved the goals. In order to do this, social workers apply a range of skills at this stage and primarily use rapport building and relationship building skills which are part of engagement.
2. Skills to help facilitate and participate in family team meetings
Effective facilitation is key to getting a family to work on goals that they share. Facilitators must have specific skills that reflect the value base of family engagement and teaming in order to carry out these activities.
Team members, other than the facilitator, must play their roles in the team as well. They need to have the skills to listen, contribute to the meetings, participate collaboratively, and offer follow-up assistance with families.
3. Skills needed to conduct assessments, develop service plans and engage in purposeful interventions with children, youths, older persons and families
To conduct strengths-based family assessments, develop individualized service plans, and intervene effectively, social workers will need strong skills in interviewing, analyzing, documenting, collaboration and follow-up. These skills will vary greatly from one family to the next and from one situation to the next. For example, they may range from finding a placement in a school to changing a deeply embedded, multi-generational pattern of thinking and behaving.
So skills are needed to carry out good assessments, develop service plans and to conduct purposeful interventions with children, youths, older persons and families. These skills are necessary for effective work with families and family-centred practice. To embrace family-centred practice, the strengths of the family must be valued, emphasised, and acted upon. The worker encourages and respects the families’ choices and their decision‐making. The worker engages collaboratively with the families, recognising them as equal partners in supporting the goals that are set out. Effective family‐centred practice is characterised by sensitivity, diversity, and flexibility.
Family-centred practice is one approach in intervention and it is a specific and systematic way of working with families that has a thorough rationale, advantages and benefits that have been researched. It applies a body of knowledge and skills and in particular a family-centred approach vs a professional-centred approach in working with families with the worker being competent and skilful in sharing power and being confident in the capacity of the family to rebuild expectations and hope.
1 Carl J. Dunst, Carol M. Trivette and Deborah W. Hamby. (2007). Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Research Reviews
Director of Social Welfare
Ministry of Social and Family Development