Family-centred service delivery has become the "new
paradigm" in both residential and non-residential agencies. The authors
present a cornprehensive model for assisting both agencies and
practitioners in the implementation of this approach.
Those who are closest to children and spend the most
time with them— parents and child care workers—have the least power in
the human service system. This statement, too often true, provides the
rationale for providing special attention to the role of the child and
youth care worker in the new paradigm of family-centred residential
care: If we are to empower families, we must also empower the child and
youth care workers, those who indeed spend the most time in direct
client contact, to deliver to families, as they do to children, the
unique components of the child and youth care profession.
For this to occur, it is necessary for family-centred
agencies to systematically support the refraining of the child and youth
care worker role from child-centred to family-centred practice. The
child and youth care workers must be specifically prepared to utilize
the core functions of their field in a family-centred approach.
This paper will present a comprehensive model for
preparing both the agency and the child and youth care workers
themselves to implement family-centred delivery approaches. Central
features will include:
the major premises upon which such a model should be
based to work successfully
a training model comprising content for the agency as
a whole and for child and youth care practitioners specifically
suggestions for delivery of training to enhance the
likelihood of successful transfer of skills.
Training alone is insufficient if the child and youth
care professional is to become a major and effective player in the
provision of family-centred services. The following premises need to be
addressed to provide a context that will support the appropriate
inclusion of child and youth care workers in family-centred work.
Recognition of the complexities of implementing a
The institution of a family-centred model in a group or residential
care program automatically increases complexity by introducing more
elements in the delivery system. Rather than direct interaction between
staff and children only, safely within the walls of the program, the
introduction of other individuals and family members makes more complex
the network of relationships. The staff must relate not only to the
child, but to the parent, to the relationship between the parent and
child, and to the other staff members who also are relating to both
child and family. In addition, since the real life of the family extends
far beyond the confines of the group setting, staff must become more
knowledgeable of and skillful within a wide range of community and
Recognition of the fundamental and unique role of the
child and youth care worker in implementing a family-centred model
Traditionally, the family, where it has received attention at all in
residential settings, has fallen within the domain of other professions,
most notably social work. The child and youth care field in recent years
has made substantial strides in articulating its knowledge and skill
base. In each area, the child and youth care worker can provide not only
an applicable, but a fundamental, full range of supports required by
families. Child and youth care workers, adapting their knowledge and
skills to families, can provide unique services that are not often
addressed by other human service professions.
Recognition that attitudinal and structural changes will
need to be made throughout the agency in order for a comprehensive
family-centred model to succeed
A family-centred model by its very definition must surround the
family with the complete range of supports and services needed to help
the whole family, not only the individual child, as the client.
Segmented and provincial service classifications impede this holistic
view of family needs. Each staff member potentially has something to
offer in this mix, and it is the nature of the family’s needs, not
traditional hierarchy, that dictates whose role is most important in
this context. Family therapy alone cannot meet these needs any more than
therapy can meet the variety of social, recreational, developmental, and
other needs of the child in care.
For this role and attitude shift to occur, the following
aspects of the agency need to be examined:
Family preservation and support.
Family preservation—maintaining valuable connections, functioning
effectively as a family and child-rearing unit—is the driving value of
the current notion of family-centred practice in any setting. While
embracing this perspective, it is important to recognize that there are
some families for whom full preservation is not possible, and which may
not be able to fully reunify. Nonetheless, even in these cases, the
maintenance of the "optimal level of connection" (Warsh, Malluccio, &
Pine, 1994) for the child or youth in care remains a goal.
Varied family patterns.
Although it may seem like stating the obvious, it is important to
reiterate that in the last decades, family configurations have become so
varied that the traditional nuclear family—father, mother, children—is
often the exception, rather than the rule. It is important that
practitioners in all roles recognize that there can be many strengths in
these families (Elkind, 1994) and be circumspect about viewing a
"different" family configuration as "unhealthy." Stepfamilies and
extended families can be valuable resources, even when they do not
represent a full-time family alternative.
Multicultural and generic perspectives.
A significant component of training for all professions in family-centred
practice is both the generic and multicultural aspects of values,
communication, expectations, activities of daily living, and the like.
The challenge is to recognize the commonalities that unite all human
beings in organizing their lives along with the variations
characteristic of various cultural and ethnic groups. A particular
challenge is respecting variations in child-rearing practices that are
culture-specific, yet challenging those that are damaging to human
beings, no matter what cultural group they belong to. A high degree of
skill and respect for differences is crucial.
The role of the child and youth care worker.
Are they viewed as simply there to take care of the children and
youth when none of the other "real" professions "want" them? Or are they
seen as playing a central role in the entire treatment process? Or, as
is most often the case, is their role somewhere in between, in which
they participate as team members but are restricted from certain
functions—often any but the most incidental contact with families?
We contend that for any family-centred model to be
effective, child and youth care workers must be prepared for and be
expected to fully participate m family-centred work for the following
- Unless child and youth care workers are full participants in
implementing a family-centred model, a dysfunctional model will be
replicated within the agency. This model is analagous to a
dysfunctional family in which any member systematically disempowered
or omitted from fundamental activities will become demoralized,
disengaged, and disconnected from working towards a valued common goal
or mission. Miscommunications, "splitting," "acting out," and similar
barriers to staff harmony and effectiveness will hold sway, thereby
compromising the overall program value.
- Failure to utilize the experiences of the lifespace during the
24-hour day will actually diminish the opportunities in which the
agency can make an impact on families. For example, Noble and Gibson
(1994) point out how child care workers were always present when
children returned from home visits, while it was not possible to get
therapists to be present, thus making it appropriate for skilled child
and youth care workers to handle these transitions. Likewise, the
opportunities offered by such events as evening telephone calls,
immediate followup to behavioural interventions, and family-centred
recreational activities are too rich in promise to ignore.
- More than any other discipline, child and youth care shares with
the parents the events of daily life, and many critical roles and
responsibilities in areas such as discipline, teaching life skills,
recreation, and nurturing. To be effective workers, child and youth
care professionals must master these areas of expertise. With the
proper training and skills, these workers can function as important
mentors, teachers, and role models to struggling families in the very
areas in which they often experience the greatest need.
Hiring criteria and job descriptions.
Criteria for hiring child and youth care workers must include
appropriate activity with families; similarly, job descriptions must be
developed that reflect the agency family-centred model and the functions
within it. Clear definition of the areas in which child and youth care
assumes and shares responsibility for families with other professions is
critical to avoid harmful boundary and "turf" disputes. Similarly, job
duties and functions that stress social control instead of behavioural
teaching, custodial care instead of active life-skills education, and
corrective instead of appropriate developmental focus weaken the ability
of the child and youth care worker to effectively relate to families.
Given the various capacities, levels of maturity, stage
of professional development to amenability to working in a family-centred
model (VanderVen, 1988), it could be suitable to have differentiated
roles of child and youth care workers, with some expected to assume more
family-centred activities than others, who would be primarily
What is the role of child and youth care workers in the team
process: Are they full, contributing members, offering information,
observation, ideas and contributions to decisions? Are they present but
essentially ignored in developing treatment plans and making major
decisions? For a comprehensive family-centred model to work, obviously a
full partnership must be achieved. The capacity of the group care
setting to model true teamwork is imperative if family members are to
feel connected and empowered.
Educational level of child and youth care workers.
Child and youth care workers with college educations, or, as is
increasingly the case, specialized preparation in child and youth care
work, are often versed in and open to the concepts of family-centred
practice, and thus it is appropriate to offer them this specialized
The organizational design, or hierarchy in an agency, both manifest
and latent, showing who is responsible to whom and lines of
communication, is centrally related to the success of a family-centred
model involving child and youth care workers. If they are at the bottom
of a traditional multi-tiered organizational hierarchy giving line
authority to traditional clinical professions, it will be all the more
difficult to implement a true family-centred model, for it will
perpetuate the dynamic mentioned above that "those who spend the most
time with the children and youth are the least empowered."
Thus a training model oriented towards child and youth
care workers in a family-centred model must address both contextual
(agency-wide) factors as well as specific needs for knowledge and skills
of the child care workers.
THE TRAINING MODEL
Implementing a true family-centred model of treatment in a
residential or group care program requires not only training the line
child and youth care staff for full involvement in the model utilizing
the particular functions associated with their role, but also both
training the other disciplines and providing a structure for integrating
them into the total team approach. Derived from the preceding premises,
the following areas should be addressed in agency-wide orientation and
- the centrality of the role of the child and youth care worker
- the unique role and functions of the child and youth care worker
- how child-centred child and youth care functions extend and apply
directly to a family-centred model
- models of team organization and functioning that allow equal
participation and decision making by all disciplines
- the transdisciplinary approach in which bounded professions
actually share appropriate skill areas with others so that clients
receive more consistent and integrated services
- family preservation as a value system and intervention
- systems and family systems theory
- varied family patterns
- multi-cultural aspects of family life and child-rearing practices
- the scope and nature of community resources and helping networks.
Child and Youth Care Workers’ Issues
These issues are posed to encourage awareness of factors
that are germane to the success of child and youth care family-centred
work. They are attitudes and points of view that must underpin the
service, rather than specific competencies of practice, and should be
infused throughout any specific curricular content. (Some of these are
derived from VanderVen, 1991.)
Identifying with families.
Child and youth care workers cannot be effective unless they first
learn to separate their feelings about inappropriate behaviour from
their capacity to unconditionally care about the child. Yet this is
often much more difficult to do when one considers the behaviour of
parents and other adults. Nonetheless, child and youth care workers must
learn to do this, and to identify with and value families in the same
way that they do children. The degree to which they are able to do this
may depend on their general maturity level and stage of personal
development. Those workers who are themselves parents, or who are old
enough to have resolved their own issues with parental authority, are
most likely to value families positively and consider them their
Meeting parents’ needs simultaneously.
The parents of troubled children are themselves more likely to have
been inadequately parented. Thus, even though they are adults, they have
many unresolved needs and issues reflecting their own childhoods.
Expecting them to be solely invested in their children, to place the
children’s needs primary, is usually unrealistic and an exercise in
futility unless they are nurtured simultaneously with their child. For
example, a parent who had few play materials and opportunity to play as
a child will have difficulty actively enabling play in his or her child,
and may even unconsciously envy the opportunities for such activity
provided the child. In this case, the parent would be provided
playthings and activities first. When she or he felt gratified, then the
focus could shift to the child. When the child and youth care worker
thus uses his skills to enhance the development of both parent and
child, parent resentment and resistance is often bypassed.
Relating to the parent-child bond.
As the child and youth care worker shifts identity from the child to
the parents and the child’s family, the worker needs to take care that
he or she does not fall prey to the pitfall of triangular relationships:
that is, relate primarily to one party, be it child or parent, while
excluding the other and the relationship between them (Anglin, undated).
The creation of an "us against them" scenario mitigates against
attainment of the ultimate goal of the family-centred approach: a
positive relationship and bond between both parent and child.
Similarities and dissimilarities in the parental and
child and youth care worker role. This relates to the "substitute
parent" issue frequently discussed in literature on child and youth
care. Child and youth care workers do most closely approximate
parents in their function, in such roles as "house" and "cottage"
parents and providing primary care to children. Despite this, they are,
of course, not the child’s real parents for a lifetime. Helpful
approaches to exploring the dimensions of this issue are recognizing the
differences between parents and professionals (Katz, 1984), and viewing
the child and youth care worker as an "impact player," who, as in a
football game (Noble & Gibson, 1994), comes in for a short time to
contribute additional support and energy to make a difference. The shift
to a role of supplemental and supportive ally from that of substitute
parent is often a difficult, yet critically important one.
Competition between child and youth care workers and
Placement of a child or youth in care lowers parental self-esteem,
almost by definition. Parents may hold a strong sense of "having failed"
or being "the cause" of their child’s problems. When they then observe
child and youth care workers having greater "success" with their child,
they can often feel even more inadequate. Likewise, the worker who takes
pride in a strong relationship with a child can feel threatened by the
child’s feelings for a parent. A model of this process is well
articulated by Garland (1987), who points out that having the worker
directly engaged with the parent as well as the child cuts through this
negative cycle. Parent and worker are partners, not adversaries.
The meaning of the family to the child.
Although many children and youth may come from families that agency
staff feel are woefully inadequate, rejecting and punitive, all staff
need to be extremely cautious about demeaning a child’s family to him or
her. Similarly, even in those families for which preservation or
re-unification is not an option, staff can do whatever possible to
support "family connectedness" (Noble & Gibson, 1994) to enable children
to maintain optimal contact and involvement with their family, including
siblings. The meaning of the family to the child must always be
recognized and the strengths of that relationship nurtured.
Utilizing Child and Youth Care Worker Core and Family-centred
Family-centred work for child and youth care workers can be
described in two domains: adaptation of generic, core, child and youth
care work competencies; and specialized training in targeted knowledge
skills and attributes.
Core curriculum areas have been well defined: for
example, for the emergent profession of child and youth care work,
Principles and Guidelines for Child Care Personnel Programs (VanderVen,
Mattingly, Morris, Kelly, & Peters, 1982), and for family-centred child
and youth care work, in VanderVen (1987, 1991). These areas comprise and
support all developmental and therapeutic goals and are translatable
directly into a family-centred model.
Core Child and Youth Care Competencies with Adaptations
to a Family-centred Model
Caring and nurturing.
These are skills in responding in an accepting empathic, supportive,
encouraging way in all of the domains of practice; for example, in
verbal and non-verbal communication, activities of daily living, or
environmental design. While the impulse to "care" may arguably be seen
as innate, the skills necessary to show caring and to nurture
effectively are clearly learned. The child and youth care worker’s model
of these skills is critical.
Sharing information in ways that allow messages to be accurately
heard and interpreted, both verbally and non-verbally, is a core skill
of the child and youth care worker. For a family, for example, knowing
"what and how to say it" with reference to such situations as conveying
bad news, talking over the telephone, or clarifying procedures is an
important part of imparting consistent messages to the child.
This is the dynamics of establishing and maintaining relationships
and the process of separation: the therapeutic function of
relationships; for example, asking parents about their individual
interests and responding energetically or engaging parents in
discussions and conversations that are not exclusively focused on
problems or issues with the children. The perception by parents that
they might share a relationship with another adult, irrespective of the
professional relationship with their child, can represent a major
breakthrough in establishing trust and motivation to change.
This encompasses the use of activities reflecting "the culture of
childhood," such as hobbies and play, other age-appropriate domains of
activity like sports, art, crafts, games, food preparation, music,
drama, and writing to achieve developmental and therapeutic goals.
Activity programming is particularly pertinent to family-centred
practice. Many families under stress forget how to have fun together, to
relate in any other way than in a crisis. Activities provide ways for
families to rebuild balanced and rewarding relationships.
Activities of daily living.
This includes structure and scheduling of the general day; and
handling of such areas as bedtime, toileting, dressing, eating, and
transportation. Here again, these skills have a strong family
application. Families of children in care often are driven from moment
to moment, with little coherence in the day. Child and youth care
workers can play a key role in working with these families to devise a
workable structure and schedule and handle daily routines in a positive
manner, and in identifying the life-skills needed by the child.
Environmental design embraces the establishment of a physical
setting that conveys positive messages and supports developmental and
therapeutic goals; furniture selection, decoration, equipment
accessibility and maintenance are all aspects of this function. Valuable
lessons for families are available in the design of the residential
life-space, but these need to be identified and acknowledged before they
can be taught.
Group process (including stages of group development, group dynamics
such as the integration of new members and the like) is a core domain of
child and youth care work. As child and youth care workers interact with
groups of children and youth, so will they interact with family groups
both individually and collectively. Parents can greatly gain from
experience, not only with their child, but with his or her peer group as
Child and youth care workers in some settings are responsible for
connecting their youthful clients to appropriate community activities;
for example, recreational and club facilities, and supporting them in
their activities there. With families, this function can be extended, to
the engagement of both child and family in productive community networks
and activities. Especially in the transitional phase of the child
returning to the community, it is important that parents be given as
clear an understanding as possible of the local services and supports
that are available to them.
While not always recognized, every community has
organizations that employ direct-care professionals who share much in
the way of experience and expertise with the residential child and youth
care worker. Forging relationships and a better understanding of
community resources can benefit workers and family members alike.
The development of the human being throughout the life span.
To work in a family-centred model, a practitioner must of course be
familiar with development of persons of all ages, in a life-span
perspective. This includes intergenerational issues: the nature and
texture of relationships between people of different age groups.
The concept of family preservation and support.
Family preservation—its rationale, characteristics, and
applications, including identifying strengths that can be used to
mobilize and reunify families—is perhaps the fundamental current concept
and value underlying the transition to family-centred work.
Understanding that not all families can be fully reunified, and the
factors necessary to assess and maintain the optimal level of connection
in each case, is also critical.
Ecological and systems theory is a crucial concept for child and
youth care workers’ knowledge base (VanderVen, 1991); patterns of
relationships and interactions are understood in this context.
Varied family patterns.
Single-parent families, kinship families, extended families, gay and
lesbian parents, teen age parents, and many other family patterns exist;
both strengths and areas to support must be recognized.
This is a compendium based on earlier work by VanderVen (1988,
1991), identifying functions and related skills for family-centred child
and youth care work. Although not formally cast into a stage model of
professional development, these skills are arranged from lowest to
highest in terms of requirement of specialized knowledge.
Observation means being alert to opportunities for gathering
information on the child and family at significant times that the child
and youth care worker is privy to. For example, noticing that a father
is particularly nurturant when coming to pick up a child, or the upset
mood of siblings constitute important pieces of information that often
It is important to be able to describe, in way appropriate to child
and family treatment plan, information on the child or youth; for
example, interests, activity, or current status.
Monitoring family contacts.
A practitioner must be able to provide an appropriate context for a
child’s private visit with his or her family; for example, physical
setting, greeting and saying goodbye to family, or helping child rejoin
the group. Handling the transition time when children and families meet
or the child is returned from a home visit, is particularly significant
and a function most likely to be performed by child and youth workers
(Noble & Gibson, 1994).
Mediating family contacts and conflicts.
Mediating family contacts assumes a more participative role, in
which the child and youth care worker actually would interact with the
child and family members around a particular issue.
Modeling positive ways of interacting with children is an important
skill. It should be pointed out that the modeling will much more likely
have an impact if the child and youth care worker has a relationship
with the parent, and if the worker is self-aware of the skills he or she
has learned and the process through which these skills were gained.
Formal parent education and support.
Providing individual and group parent education and support (Anglin,
1987) is an emergent and highly pertinent role for child and youth care
workers. To implement this requires not only content knowledge, but also
appropriate delivery methods, such as designing, training, and handling
group discussions and effective adult teaching strategies.
Parent involvement facilitator.
This category encompasses implementing and facilitating, as well as
designing and developing, family involvement programs "on site"—for
example, family activity nights, special ceremonies, family child
"clean-up day," sibling groups, and the like—as well as other events
such as field trips and family outings.
Off-site family functions.
Among the functions here might be arranging, and accompanying
families as a unit to, community activity functions, just as they would
arrange and accompany children, and making home visits. In fact, home
visiting—to assess, aid in transitions, provide modeling and other
interventions such as helping a family set up a meaningful schedule, and
follow-up—is increasingly emerging as a primary function of the family-centred
child and youth care worker.
This is a category of family-centred work that is appropriate for
the most highly prepared child and youth care worker. These are
comprehensive, multifaceted services that embrace a family-centred
philosophy, as performed by a clinical practitioner, that is, family
therapist (VanderVen, 1991). Interestingly, domains of child and youth
care work such as play and activity are particularly appropriate for
adaptation to the highest level of family intervention; for example, the
conjoint play therapy model developed by Griff (1983).
To prepare effective child and youth care workers in a family-centred
context requires an appropriate pedagogy that encourages transfer; that
is, that the knowledge and skills "taught" within a more formal program
of either training or education is actually applied effectively in
direct practice. As stated earlier, training, no matter how full and
diversified cannot accomplish this alone. Program rules and structure
need to also be adapted to assure that skills can be utilized
The following approaches are recognized as contributing
positively to transfer:
The availability of information describing the knowledge or
situation is given, through lectures, tapes, readings, and the like.
The skill to be developed is demonstrated by the instructor, perhaps
utilizing participants in role plays, as well as by utilizing videotapes
and other graphic teaching tools.
Examples of applications are provided in order to show participants
the many ways a particular knowledge or skill applies in an array of
contexts and situations.
Relating to own situation. For training to transfer,
trainees must be able to connect what they are receiving to their real
life work and to be able to see parallels and applications.
This is the crux of ensuring application in a "theory to practice"
situation; that is, a classroom-type training that prepares
practitioners for in situ work. Trainees must be given the
opportunity to formally practice and apply their new knowledge and
practice under the guiding eye of more experienced and knowledgeable
Two important concepts to facilitate this are mentoring
and coaching. Mentoring is the pairing of a less experienced worker to a
more senior practitioner so that the senior person may provide a model,
guide, and support the newer worker in an overall process of
professional development around a particular domain. Mentoring has much
relevance to promoting a model of family-centred child and youth care.
The fact that mentoring encompasses a personal relationship between
mentor and mentee is particularly empowering to the mentee who can
experience professional growth without the perceived threats of formal
supervision and evaluation.
Coaching is a less individualized form of guidance as
practitioners apply new knowledge and skills in the direct setting. In
coaching, appropriate colleagues actively teach and provide feedback to
practitioners before, during, and subsequent to practice applications.
It is important to encourage child and youth care workers in the new
paradigm to be "reflective practitioners" (Schon, 1983); that is, to be
able to review their work and interactions with families, to relate this
to what they already know, to generate out of it revised practice
principles, to apply them in new situations, and to continue the
The time span for the training must be adequate to fully inform,
nurture, and develop a competent level of skill in family-centred work.
Similarly, the agency "culture" regarding the role of child and youth
care workers must, if necessary, be given time to change; an agency
should not abandon its attempt to develop a family-centred program with
the crucial involvement of child and youth care workers.
Legitimacy refers to the degree to which the content of the program
is comprehensive: covers all the knowledge, skills, attributes needed to
provide the service. In this case, family-centred child and youth care
are congruent. It actually allows child and youth care workers to meet
the needs of children, youth, and families served by a particular
This refers to the degree to which a training program is not only
necessarily individualized—to meet the particular needs and timing of an
agency—and standardized, but is derived from, and relates to, other
training and educational programs and formal guidelines for their
development and implementation.
Transferability. Transferability refers to the
degree to which the training can be adapted not only to other client
groups in other settings and contexts, but also the extent to which it
is "portable"—that is, it can be recognized as a legitimate
qualification by other programs the practitioner may work in.
Family-centred approaches offer new opportunities to strengthen and
support, not merely to substitute for, families. In doing so, they move
the therapeutic and developmental interventions of our residential care
system into the very new and exciting domains of the child’s "real
world" of family and community. They allow the strength of the
residential setting, its ability to surround clients with care, to be
applied in the same way to support family connectedness. They allow the
child and youth care worker, the resident expert in teaching through the
events of daily life, to develop new and valuable specialized skills.
Finally, they create new opportunities for the development of the direct
care professions, and for families to benefit from their unique skills.
This paper has presented a complete model for the
utilization of child and youth care workers in family-centred models of
residential care. It posits that without their full inclusion, the
agency will actually replicate the dynamics of a dysfunctional family.
The information contained here should support any agency in getting
started, and prepare child and youth care workers, as well as other
staff, for this crucial work.
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