By Raising Children Network
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Some parents are looking for some basic guidance or ideas for how they can give their child the best upbringing. Others might be worried about how they’re doing and need some reassurance or suggestions. One of the best ways you can help them is to give them the resources they need to make their own decisions.

It’s tempting to tell parents what to do when they have a problem; it seems like the quickest way to reach a solution. But when parents get all their answers and solutions from professionals, they can become dependent, coming back every time they have a problem. If instead, service providers help families to make their own decisions about their own lives, families develop confidence to keep making decisions in the future.

Family centred practice is one way of doing this. Service providers work in partnership with families to reach goals. Families get the information and tools they need so they can manage some issues themselves. Family centred practice works across a wide range of human services.

Some of the things to aim for if you’re interested in providing family centred practice are:

  • being sensitive and responsive to all different kinds of families, including those from different cultural, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds
  • basing services on what families want
  • being flexible in how you provide services, thinking about what’s most useful to the particular family you’re working with
  • acknowledging and respecting that parents are the experts about their child and their family circumstances 
  • giving families the information they need to make informed choices
  • helping families get in touch with informal, community, and formal supports and resources, rather than relying solely on formal resources
  • forming strong links with other mainstream and specialist child and family services to make sure you know where to point families when they need help.

If you’re a health professional

Health professionals play a very valuable role in the lives of families. It is worth considering how family focused your practice is because:

  • if you have built a good partnership with a parent you are better equipped to help solve problems. For example, if you are aware that a parent feels anxious about a behaviour strategy for their child, you can sit with them and talk further about it
  • each family is different, and understanding a family’s particular characteristics and needs will help you provide directed support.

A family-centred approach is increasingly being recognised as improving outcomes for families. There are three main things to consider.

Your overall approach

  • All families are different, and support works best when it takes the family’s specific characteristics into account.
  • The parent will always know their children and their family best.
  • All families have strengths and are able to work on developing these further.
  • The wellbeing and development of a child depends upon the wellbeing of all other family members and of the family as a whole.
  • The wellbeing of a family depends upon the quality of their informal social supports and the availability of formal support services.

Supporting children

  • Ensure health, safety and good nutrition for children.
  • Work on developing a warm, caring relationship with children.
  • Look out for and respond to children’s cues and clues.
  • Cater for the fact that every child is different. Be aware of each child’s interests and strengths so you can work together on building them
  • Surround children with language.
  • Encourage exploration and play.

Supporting parents

  • Work on building connections with parents. Parents can feel daunted or confused by professional language, and can be overcome with worry if their child has a health problem. If they know they can trust you, it will really help.
  • Even when there’s not much you can do to help, being available and supportive provides focus and security for families. 
  • Provide clear, truthful information and context. 
  • Try not to make assumptions about what parents ‘need to know’. 
  • Listen to parents carefully when they ask questions and acknowledge the anxiety that comes with not knowing. 
  • Provide support without judging
  • If there is a crisis, accept and respect parents who are confused or highly emotional. Try to remember that a crisis can happen to anybody. 
  • Promote bonding and connection between parent and child. Talk to parents about noticing helpful signals as they bond with their baby. Support them as they learn to tune in to their child and attend to their child's needs. 
  • Try to see your job as a partnership with parents as they care for their child in whatever ways they can.  
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  • Last Reviewed 15-05-2006
  • Re-focusing - community based services for young children and their families, Centre for Community Child Health , Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne