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Selected Readarounds in Child and Youth Care

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Mapping change in a child and family centre in Melbourne, Australia

P.M. McNamara

Berry Street Victoria (BSV, a large, long-established and respected NGO in Victoria, Australia) has a mission statement built on five core practice principles – courage, integrity, respect, accountability and working together. This mission statement has a high profile within the Family Centre and is actively promoted externally within the community it serves. In the course of this research, the Manager made reference on several occasions to the prominent BSV logo which states emphatically that "every child deserves a future". The BSV mission statement and agency logo would appear to draw upon a theory of change grounded in ecological systems (Maluccio & Whittaker, 1997). The Matters Programme is consistent with this and is strongly oriented to the specific practice approaches of family systems interventions and strengths based practice. It aims for democratic empowerment through flexible, responsive programmes. The Matters team has a strong commitment to community outreach and to maintaining hope in the face of serious challenge. The team seems to balance this optimism with a realistic perspective in relation to resource capacity; "nothing is too hard for us – but we are not `a one-stop shop' ". Gender-sensitive family systems practice from the micro to the macro level is emphasized – especially in the area of domestic violence, which forms a significant proportion of the Centre's work.

The power of the group to achieve change for individuals and families is also deemed extremely important by the Matters Programme Team; a wide range of therapeutic and educational groups are offered. These include Standing up against Teenage Aggression, a group for parents (especially single mothers); Working Together, parallel groups for parents and children where the parent is living with a serious mental illness – a programme run in collaboration with local mental health agencies; Breaking Free, a group for women living in situations of domestic violence; an anger management group for teenagers; and Expression, a music therapy group for mothers and children living in a situation of domestic violence.

There is a strong orientation to family therapy as a primary intervention strategy. Narrative constructivist approaches are especially favored. The team appears to especially draw upon the work of such theorists as Michael White, David Epston, Steve de Shazer and lnsoo Kim Berg. The team argue that they are oriented to "small steps" in the change process rather than "rushing families through". They aim to "work at the family's own pace". This latter element in the theory of change would appear to relate closely to the set of meanings ascribed to the Centre as "container" (Berry, Bussey & Cash, 2001; Dawson & Berry, 2002; Cash & Berry, 2003). In this aspect, the ecosystems approach applied in the Centre's work incorporates object relations concepts at the micro-meso interface (Shuttleworth, 1989). An exploration of the community-based Family Centre as "container" has been central to the research design for this study. Community linkages in the change process are also highlighted by staff. Linkages such as that with the community police noted above would appear to be consistent with the Centre's `containing' role.

The team cite professional supervision as vital to positive change being achieved. All staff members receive weekly supervision on an individual basis. Group work supervision is conducted separately. Professional training and development is strongly encouraged, supported and facilitated. This would appear to be further evidence of 'containment' in action'.


Berry, M., Bussey, M., & Cash, S. (2001). Evaluation in a dynamic environment: Assessing change when nothing is constant. In E. Walton, P. Sandau-Beckler, & M. Mannes (Eds.), Balancing family-centered services with child well-being. NY: Columbia University Press.

Cash, S.J., & Berry, M. (2003). The impact of family preservation services on child and family well-being. Journal of Social Service Research, 29(1), 1-26.

Dawson, K., & Berry, M. (2002). Engaging families in child welfare services: An evidence based approach to best practice. Child Welfare, 81(2), 293-317.

Maluccio, A., & Whittaker, J. (1997). Learning from the family preservation initiative. Children and Youth Services Review, 19(1-2), 5-16.

Shuttleworth, J. (1989). Psychoanalytic theory and infant development. In L. Miller, M. RustinN, M., & J. Shuttleworth (Eds.), Closely observed infants (pp. 22). London: Duckworth.

McNamara, P.M. (2006) Mapping change in a child and family centre in Melbourne, Australia. International Journal of Child and Family Welfare, 9 (1-2), pp.41-52

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