Jesuit Social Services
Working with Families

When/How to Involve Family Members

Current research suggests that effective practice with adolescents needs to include the facilitation of connections to family and other consistently caring adults ¹. A sense of belonging or connectedness to family protects a young person from long-term adverse outcomes ².

Where families have been a source of disadvantage in some way, young people's resilience can still be built by offering "second chances", through the development of attachments to supportive adults. Even parents who have played destructive roles in earlier years can become effective parents with new skills, maturity and desire to change ³.

Good relationships with other significant adults have also been found to be protective in situations where the natural family are not warm, available or in existence 4. A young person who is challenging or difficult may need more than one adult connection in their lives, as the risk is high that a single relationship may disintegrate if the going gets tough5.

Workers have an important but relatively brief role in the lives of young people. The facilitation and/or maintenance of family connections, and connections with other significant adults, should be a key goal of any intervention with a young person.
Ideas from this Help Sheet
1. Identify important existing and potential connections for the young person. Relationships that elicit strong emotions, whether positive or negative, are likely to be significant.
2. Explain confidentiality issues to young people and family members, and gain consent about what information you can share.
3. Give the family members an opportunity to express their concerns, feelings and thoughts within a relaxed, non-blaming, non-judgmental environment. Provide information to them.
4. With the young person's permission/consent, speak with family members by phone, or in person, during assessment and at other regular times during your work with the young person.
5. Provide a respectful, predictable and consistent relationship for the young person and other family members.

Possible barriers

Whilst workers may intuitively recognise the importance of enduring connections, they may be reluctant to have contact with family members for a number of reasons, such as:

  • lack of clarity about their role with family members and how to ensure the young person remains the primary client.
  • lack of confidence about how to may manage intense or conflictual family relationships.
  • an assumption that the young person will not want to discuss or involve family.
  • concern that if family is discussed, a "Pandora's Box" may be opened that the worker does not have the skills or knowledge to deal with
  • assumption that the young person has burnt bridges with their family.
  • concerns about additional time and energy involved.
  • it is outside their role.

It may be helpful to try to identify the key reasons why you may feel uncomfortable or ambivalent about working with families and to have discussions with you supervisors and managers to clarify whether family contact or family work is encouraged by your agency.

Other help sheets on this site may help you to deal with some of these barriers.

Who to involve

During an intake interview with the young person, a thorough assessment of their family and other connections should be undertaken. A genogram or ecomap will help to identify the people who are most important in the young person's life, and the nature of their relationship.

Help the young person to identify important people who may be committed to support them in some way, or who may become part of a 'care team' for the young person. Be alert to the people who elicit the strongest emotions in the young person, whether the emotions are positive or negative. These people, whether absent or present in the young person's life, are still having a significant impact and may be important to target to improve connections. At the least, you may be able to help them to better understand their feelings and their experiences of the family member.

Assessment by you about the suitability, timing and nature of contact with family members will need to be ongoing.

Effective Assessment of Family Information at Intake
A Simple Guide to Genograms
Discussing Family
When Contact with Family is Harmful

When to involve family members in your work

The following are suggestions for when it may be appropriate to facilitate some family involvement in your work if you have the clients and your agency's consent:

Assessment processes

Involving family members in the assessment process will help you to gain their perspective of the young person and their needs and support network. With the young person's consent, make it a priority to meet with family members (with or without the young person present). This may help to get a more detailed and balanced view of the young person's current issues.

Family situations and relationships should be constantly reviewed, as emotions, feelings or situations are all open to change over time and circumstance. Explore how the relationship may proceed in the most beneficial way at this time. Check in with the young person and family members regularly about how the relationship is going and provide support or refer for further support as needed.

A good strategy for keeping family relations on the agenda is to aim to include at least one objective relating to family in case plans.

As part of a 'care team'

Involve family member/s as part of the young person's 'care team', with the young person's consent. This means they are treated as important people in the young person's life, and information is shared within the care team, so that you and family member/s are in the best possible position to support the young person. This may help prevent relationship breakdown and other crises in the young person's life.

Regular sessions

Consider regular joint or separate sessions with family members to see how things are going from their perspective and to facilitate information sharing and positive relationships between the young person and family members. Use the time to set goals with the young person and family member/s which work towards strengthening family relationships.

At important transition points

Involve families at particular transition points (e.g. prior to or leaving detoxification service, when there is a change in treatment or accommodation etc.)

At crisis times

When a crisis occurs in a young person's relationship with a family member, try to give it priority and respond and mediate promptly. If appropriate, or you feel the need, involve another professional or seek secondary consultation.

During periods of crisis, it may also be worthwhile asking the young person if you can keep family member/s informed, so they are in a good position to provide suitable support.

At closure

Involving family members in exit planning ensures a respectful and collaborative working relationship, which will help the young person beyond their involvement with the service system.

How to involve family members in your work

  • It is up to you to clearly set the boundaries of family involvement by stating that the focus of the meeting will be the well-being of the young person within the context of their family.
  • Be flexible. Try to fit in with the time, place and mode of contact that suits the family. Ask them what they are most comfortable with.
  • Give the family the opportunity to express their concerns, hopes and solutions for their young person, as well as their own needs.
  • With the young person's consent, keep the family informed of important information so they are in a position to understand and support the young person.
  • Assisting families to access help and support can be seen as a way of indirectly helping the young person

See: Talking to Families of Young People with Complex Needs

1. Clark, R. (2000) It has to be more than a job: A search for exceptional practice with troubled adolescents. Deakin University, Melbourne: Policy and Practice Research Unit.

2. Fuller, A. (1998) From Surviving to Thriving: Promotion Mental Health in Young People. Melbourne: ACER.

3. Larson, S. & Brendtro, L. (2000) Reclaiming Our Prodigal Sons and Daughters. Indiana, US: National Education Service.

4. Rayner, M. & Montague, M. (200) Resilient Children and Young People. Deakin University, Melbourne: Policy and Practice Research Unit.

5. Seita, J. & Brendtro, L. (2003) Adversarial contests or respectful alliances, Reclaiming Children and Youth, 12 (1), 58-60.
"I can see that Ruby has a problem with drugs but she can't. I don't understand why - she always looks so sick.
Related Help Sheets
 Worker Help Sheets
Discussing Family
Effective Assessment of Family Information at Intake
When Contact with Family
is Harmful
Involving Disengaged Family Members
Confidentiality and Duty of
Care Issues
Talking to Families of Young People with Complex Needs
 Parent Help Sheets
Parenting an Adolescent
Family Dynamics
Parenting Styles
Keeping Calm
Building our Relationship
Suggested Reading
Sells, S. (1998) Treating the Tough Adolescent: A Family-Based, Step-by-Step Guide. Guilford Press, New York.

Daniel, B., Wassell S., Gilligan R. (1999), Child Development for Child Care and Protection Workers, Kingsley, UK.
Department of Health & Ageing Terms of Use Jesuit Social Services an involved website. Site Map Contact Us About back to top help? download pdf