CYC-Net on Facebook CYC-Net on Twitter Search CYC-Net

Join Our Mailing List

Selected Readarounds in Child and Youth Care

ListenListen to this

Family support

Pat Dolan, John Canavan and Bernadine Brady

At this point in time, Family Support now occupies a significant place within the array of care and welfare interventions throughout the western world. As Connolly (2004) points out, many countries are exploring how the dual mandate of child welfare – child protection and family support – can be accommodated within an integrated family-centred response. Yet, while increasing in popularity, family support is under-conceptualised, with many practitioners continuing to work without a common view as to its meaning (Dolan, 2006). The following set of 10 practice principles were developed by Dolan, Canavan, and Pinkerton (2006) to further common understanding of family support.

Working in partnership is an integral part of family support. Partnership includes children, families, professionals and communities. Family Support interventions are needs-led and strive for the minimum intervention required. Family support requires a clear focus on the wishes, feelings, safety and well-being of children. Family support services reflect a strengths-based perspective that is mindful of resilience as a characteristic of many children and families' lives. Family support promotes the view that effective interventions are those that strengthen informal support networks. Family support is accessible and flexible in respect of location, timing, setting and changing needs, and can incorporate both child protection and out of home care. Families are encouraged to self-refer, and multi-access referral paths will be facilitated. Involvement of service users and providers in the planning, delivery and evaluation of family support services is promoted on an ongoing basis. Services aim to promote social inclusion, addressing issues around ethnicity, disability and rural/urban communities.

Measures of success are routinely built into provision so as to facilitate evaluation based on attention to the outcomes for service users and thereby facilitate ongoing support for quality services based on best practice. While the formulation of such practice principles are important, Canavan (2006) argues that developing family support further and ensuring its place within the global operation of child welfare (and other human services) will require sustained intellectual work, wherein the collective actions of front-line workers, operational managers, policy-makers and researchers are brought together, in a coherent fashion, to reflect on and further develop the meaning of such principles in practice. For this to happen, there is a need for all of us working in the broad field of family support to engage in an ongoing process of reflection and analysis in relation to our work, attempting to bridge the gap between theory and practice (Parton, 1997).

In essence, it is the combined application of theory (know of), skills (know how) and reflective practice (know to) that constitutes a practitioner's response to the unmet need of a child. This requires more than just basic professional training for staff but implies building their capacity over time to become interactive with their practice at a very deep and meaningful level based exclusively on the task of meeting need.


Canavan, J. (2006). Reflecting for action: The future of family support. In P. Dolan, J. Canavan, & J. Pinkerton (Eds.), Family support as reflective practice (chapter 18). London, UK: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Connolly, M. (2004). Child and family welfare: Statutory responses to children at risk. Christchurch: Te Awatea Press.

Dolan, P. (2006). Assessment, intervention and self appraisal tools for family support. In P. Dolan, J. Canavan, & J. Pinkerton (Eds.), Family support as reflective practice (chapter 13). London, UK: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Dolan, P., Canavan, J., & Pinkerton, J. (Eds.). (2006). Family support as reflective practice. London, UK: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Parton, N. (1997). Child protection and family support: Current debates and future prospects. In N. Parton (Ed.), Child protection and family support: Tensions, contradictions and possibilities (pp. 1-24). London, UK: Routledge.

Dolan, P.; Canavan, J. and Brady, B. (2006). Connecting with practice in the changing landscape of family support training. Child Care in Practice, 12, 1. pp. 44-45.

The International Child and Youth Care Network

Registered Public Benefit Organisation in the Republic of South Africa (PBO 930015296)
Incorporated as a Not-for-Profit in Canada: Corporation Number 1284643-8

P.O. Box 23199, Claremont 7735, Cape Town, South Africa | P.O. Box 21464, MacDonald Drive, St. John's, NL A1A 5G6, Canada

Board of Governors | Constitution | Funding | Site Content and Usage | Advertising | Privacy Policy | Contact us

iOS App Android App