NUMBER 605• 5 OCTOBER • INCLUDING FAMILIES
Just as families are encouraged to maintain permeable boundaries with a multitude of formal and informal service providers and supports, so too must service providers recreate the same fluid family-like structures if children’s relationships are to be nurtured and maintained with a network of adults (Chalk, 2000; Pazaratz et al., 1999; Wilson & Melton, 2001). This same point is made dramatically by Lisa Martin, Carey Peters and Charles Glisson (1998) during their study of how service decisions were made for 633 children entering state custody in Tennessee over a two-year period. They found that while an average of 10 service providers of these children were routinely consulted regarding the child’s future placement, the child’s path through the care system (i.e. which agency would own the child) was largely determined by the diagnoses that came with the child from mental health providers. Remarkably, Martin et al. found that in 6% of cases case managers had no contact with the families of these children and in 17% no contact with the children themselves. Even in cases where these case plans were well-advised, results from Martin et al.’s study show that frequently recommendations of the courts could not be followed because of a lack of accessibility to the services required to fulfil the treatment plans. The picture one gets is of systems servicing people mechanically rather than developing sustaining relationships that individualize care.Clearly, systems overlap more than ever before, but the piecemeal way in which co-ordination occurs does not emphasize relationships in children’s lives, but instead focuses on curing illness, addressing problems and fulfilling agency and court mandates. Not only are professional resources poorly used in such instances, families too remain largely invisible during interventions despite the abundant information they can provide to anchor professionals within the social and cultural setting most familiar to the child (Cook-Morales, 2002).
As James Whittaker (2000) notes, when we do include families in multisystem planning, most notably in long-term residential care leading to home re-integration, we must also seek to better understand what works and doesn’t work in these relationships from the perspective of the families themselves. Bringing all parties together is complicated by there being no clear consensus yet regarding how and where families should be engaged, the format for their involvement nor the sequencing of interventions and strategies to keep families involved with their children during periods of out-of-home care. Arguably, we are missing the opportunity to sustain a matrix of relationships for children, an important element in fostering resilience.
Ungar, M. (2003). Resilience, resources and relationships: Making integrated services more family-like. Relational Child and Youth Care Practice, 16 (3), pp. 45-57
Chalk, R.(2000) Assessing Family Violence Interventions: Linking Programs to Research-Based Strategies. Program Evaluation and Family Violence Research (pp. 29-53). New York: Haworth.
Cook-Morales, V.J. (2002) The Home-School-Agency Triangle. In D.T. Marsh and M. A. Fristad (Eds) Handbook of Serious Emotional Disturbance in Children and Adolescents. (pp. 392-411) New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Martin, L.M., Peters, C.L. & Glisson, C. (1998) Factors Affecting Case Management Recommendations for Children Entering State Custody. Social Service Review, 72(4), 521-544.
Pazaratz, D., Randall, D., Spekkens, J.F., Lazor, A., & Morton, W. (1999) The Four Phase System: A Multi-Agency Coordinated Service for Very Disturbed Adolescents. Residential Treatment for Children and Youth 17(1), 31-48.
Whittaker, J.K. (2000). What works in residential child care and treatment: Partnerships with families. In M.P. Kluger, G. Alexander & P.A. Curtis (Eds.), What works in child welfare (pp. 177-186). Washington, DC: CWLA Press.
Wilson, K.K & Melton G.B. (2002) Exemplary Neighborhood- Based Programs for Child Protection. In G.B.Melton, R. A. Thompson and M. A. Small (Eds.) Towards a Child-Centered, Neighborhood- Based Child Protection System: A Report of the Consortium on Children, Families and the Law (pp.197-213) Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Publishers.