WORK WITH FAMILIES
Before child and youth care workers can successfully engage in family work an essential prerequisite is an organizational and policy environment that supports practices that are compatible with a child-focused and family-centered approach. The following definition highlights these issues.
Family centered group-care practice is characterized by institutional structures, services, and professional practices designed to preserve and, wherever possible, to strengthen connections between child(ren) in placement and their birth parents and family members. Whether the function of group care is to provide shortterm shelter, long-term care or residential treatment, education or training, a primary goal is always to work towards the child's optimum involvement in family life, even in situations where total reunification is not possible. (Small, Ainsworth, & Hansen 1994)
Recognition of the importance of birth parents and extended family is well supported by research evidence from several sources about the search by adoptees for their family of origin (Depp, 1982; Triseliotis, 1973) and of the lifelong anguish of relinquishing mothers in regard to the child they bore yet gave away (Howe, 1991; Standing Committee on Social Issues, 2000; Wells, 1993). Further support is drawn from studies of children leaving group care without access to family networks which they then decide to reconstruct (Festinger, 1983; Jones & Moses, 1984; Stein & Carey, 1986). Other studies about children sent from Britain by child welfare organisations to Canada, South Africa, and Australia (Bean & Melville, 1989) who later engaged in searches for their relatives in distant lands also confirm this position.
They indicate the importance of incorporating birth parents and family members into group care programs as partners in the care and treatment process. This of course does not mean that parents and family members will always be able to be equal partners in this process. But it does mean that their contribution, no matter how small, will be respected and greatly appreciated.
Alongside this the empirical evidence from model-building research shows that group care programs that are family-centered score well on scales of services available to birth parents and families, parental involvement in decision making, and positive worker attitudes towards parents and family members (Ainsworth, 1997). A validated measurement instrument (Trieschman Family Centred Group Care Instrument [TFCGCI], 1997) that a group care program can use is also available to for those programs that want to measure the extent to which their policy and practice is compatible with a family-centered approach. The use of this instrument then allows group care programs to identify areas that require change if the program is to be truly family centered (Ainsworth, 2001).
Group care programs that embrace a family-centered approach have a very different structure compared to other facilities. Movement to a family-centered position requires attention to organisational change processes. Child and youth care workers also have to fully endorse this definition. This can be difficult, especially for inexperienced workers, when they are faced with demanding, aggressive and, at times, uncooperative behaviours from both birth parents, family members, and children and youth. Under these circumstances the temptation is to focus on rescuing the child or youth (VanderVen, 1981) and blaming the birth parent and family members for their child or youth's difficulties. This is self-defeating activity that only diminishes the impact of the group care program.
Ainsworth, F. Group Care Practitioners as Family Workers. Printed with permission, from Ainsworth, F. and Fulcher, L. (eds.) (2006). Group Care Practice with Children and Young People Revisited, pp. 75-86. . New York: Haworth Press.
Ainsworth, F. (1997). Family centered group care: Model building. Aldershot: Ashgate.
Ainsworth, F. (2001). After ideology: The effectiveness of residential programs for "at risk" adolescents. Children Australia. 26(2), 11-18.
Bean, P., & Melville, J. (1989). The lost children of the empire. London: Unwin Hyman.
Depp, D. C. (1982). After reunion: Perceptions of adoptees, adoptive parents, and birth parents. Child Welfare, 61(2), 115-119.
Festinger, T. (1983). No one ever told US ... postscript to foster care. Washington, DC: Child Welfare League of America.
Howe, D. (1991). Half a million women. London: Penguin Books.
Jones, M. A., & Moses, B. (1984). West Virginia's former foster children, their experience and lives as young adults. Washington, DC: Child Welfare League of America.
Small, R. W., Ainsworth, F., & Hansen, P. (1994). The Carolina's project — Working paper No.1. Needham, MA: Albert E. Trieschman Center.
Standing Committee on Social Issues (2000). Adoption in New South Wales. Legislative Council. Sydney, Australia.
Stein, M., & Carey, K. (1986). Leaving care. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
Trieschman Family Centred Group Care Instrument (TFCGCA). (1997). In F. Ainsworth (Ed.), Family centered group care: Model building. Aldershot: Ashgate.
Triseliotis, J. (1973). In search of origins: The experience of adopted people. London: Routledge Kegan Paul.
VanderVen, K. (1981). Patterns of career development in group care. In F. Ainsworth, & L. C. Fulcher (Eds.), Group care for children: Concept and issues (pp. 201-224). London: Tavistock.
Wells, S. (1993). What do birth mothers want? Adoption and Fostering, 17(4),22-26. Whittaker,1. K., & Pfeiffer, S. 1. (1994). Research priorities in residential group child care. Child Welfare, 73(5),583-601.