Strength-based approaches in children's social care in Australia

Featured article - 19 September 2018
By Vita Maiorano, The Australian Centre for Social Innovation

Head-shot of the author, Vita Maiorano, The Australian Centre for Social Innovation

Family by Family, designed for families by families, is a new approach to supporting families make lasting change in their lives, with independent evaluations demonstrating it makes a difference for families. It links families who have been through tough times and come out the other side thriving – Sharing Families – with families who want to change something in their life and want to learn and gain support from another family, called Seeking Families.

The peer to peer, strengths based approach model, creates the enabling environment for families, both Seeking and Sharing, to build a deeper sense of self, creating opportunities to set and meet goals. This process creates the confidence and self-agency in both seeking and sharing families which has resulted in changes in:

  • Family support
  • Educational attainment
  • Employment and career pathways
  • Health and wellbeing for parents and children
  • Social capital

And at its peak has supported families break cycles of intergenerational disadvantage

Low entry criteria makes engagement more accessible to Seeking Families who simply need to have a child under 18 living at home and want to make a change in their life. The service is voluntary, and Seeking Families are provided with 3 key points of choice throughout the service model:

  • Choice to participate
  • Choice of sharing family to link up with
  • Choice in their change goal which articulates the change they want to make

This creates a pivot point for families where they feel they can focus on their own aspirations rather than a systems assessment where they are told what they need to achieve.

Both families are supported by a Family Coach. The coach sits in the background, supporting the Sharing Family to coach and mentor the Seeking Family – who may never have been exposed to different ways of doing family or have never experienced positive parenting themselves. Sharing Families can provide this through role modelling, peer to peer learning, celebrating successes and having tough talks while challenging behaviours by providing a new norm or way of doing family through building trusting relationships.

Story: Nicole, Sharing Family

As a teen mother of four, and a grandmother of one by her late thirties, Nicole started with Family by Family in the early days. Her family became a Sharing Family in Adelaide. Now 42, Nicole says: 'Family by Family has changed my life - I realised that you can stand up for yourself. I can’t tell you how over the moon I am now that my children are going to university when everyone expected my kids to be on Centrelink. I feel like I’ve broken the intergenerational cycle'.

Nicole was the first in her family to complete year 12 and successfully went on to complete a degree in psychology. She’s now working the mental health sector supporting families experiencing challenges due to mental health. She says: ‘Setting goals with families has helped me to apply goal setting in my own life’.

Story: Samara, Seeking Family

Samara is a single mum of three young children. Before her Family by Family link up she sustained a brain injury in a car accident. She describes her ongoing health needs as “testing some relationships”, and she became isolated and depressed. Samara was linked up with Family by Family for 30 weeks. Her goals were to get out of the house more, build her self-confidence and be more organised at home. Samara’s Sharing Family was able to keep her engaged by simply dropping around and building strategies to help her remember.

After her link up Samara said: ‘The kids are happier, I’m happier, I’ve got better self-esteem and confidence. I walked out of my link up with a loyal friend, and now my kids have best friends. Before, I wished I had died in the car accident - now I'm glad I survived. Having a friend who held me and gave the children someone to play with and helped me change’.

Family by Family is a solution generated by The Australian Centre for Social Innovation

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