Family-centred service is made up of a set of values, attitudes, and approaches to services for children with special needs and their families. Family-centred service recognizes that each family is unique; that the family is the constant in the child's life; and that they are the experts on the child's abilities and needs. The family works with service providers to make informed decisions about the services and supports the child and family receive. In family-centred service, the strengths and needs of all family members are considered.


Philosophy and Key Elements of Family-Centred Practice

Family-centred services are based upon the belief that the best place for children to grow up is in a family and the most effective way to ensure children's safety, permanency, and well-being is to provide services that engage, involve, strengthen, and support families.


Key components of family-centred practice include:

-Working with the family unit to ensure the safety and well-being of all family members

-Strengthening the capacity of families to function effectively by focusing on solutions

-Engaging, empowering, and partnering with families throughout the decision- and goal-making processes

-Developing a relationship between parents and service providers characterized by mutual trust, respect, honesty, and open communication

-Providing individualized, culturally responsive, flexible, and relevant services for each family

-Linking families with collaborative, comprehensive, culturally relevant, community-based networks of supports and services


How does Family Centred Service make a difference?

While family-centred service makes intuitive sense to many people, those in the service delivery system (including parents, service providers, managers and policy-makers) may need to see evidence supporting its effectiveness. Considerable research has been done to determine the effectiveness of family-centred services in terms of outcomes for parents, children, and the service delivery system. Future research should address aspects of family-centred service that have received relatively little attention, such as cultural diversity, and should also explore the topic from a multiple perspectives and through a wider range of outcomes.


Becoming more Family Centred

Families, service-providers and organizations all play important roles in implementing family-centred service. Transitioning to family-centred service is a collaborative process, and typically takes time and experience from all parties involved. Organizations and individuals who are interested in becoming more family-centred should recognize and celebrate all efforts that support this approach.


Working Together

Effective communication between parents and service providers is an essential part of a family-centred approach to service. This facilitates positive behaviors such as clear goal setting and communication between families, children and service providers, and informed decision making by parents. Disagreements can be settled and even contribute to positive outcomes through respectful negotiations, where the perspective of every party is recognized and taken into account. 


The Role of Parents in Family Centred Service

There are many steps that parents can take to facilitate family-centred service and ensure the best care for their child. By establishing clear priorities, collecting facts, and developing sound arguments, parents will be in the best position to present their point of view and advocate for their child and themselves. Parents also play an integral role in "parent-to-parent" support networks, where their knowledge and expertise from first-hand experiences can be shared with others in similar situations. Lastly, parents are recognized as "experts" on their children in a family-centred approach to service, and would benefit from taking an active role in well-organized meetings and appointments with the service delivery team.


Core Values and Guiding Principles of Family Centred Practice

Core Values

Children should, first and foremost, be protected from abuse and neglect. There is an intrinsic value and human worth in every child and family. Children should live with their families, and when that cannot be achieved through supports and services, should live near their home, maintaining family connections, and in particular, sibling relationships, while also preserving their cultural heritage. A child’s home should be safe, stable and permanent.

A child should achieve success in school and their medical, emotional, behavioral, developmental and educational needs must be met. Families and individual members are most likely to resolve issues of concern by involving them in the change process and building on their strengths.


Guiding Principles

• Child safety must always be promoted while actively assisting the preservation of families and family connections.

• The first and greatest investment of public resources should be made in the care and treatment of children in their own homes and communities.

• Every child deserves to live in a family which provides basic safety, nurturing and a commitment to permanent caretaking.

• The cultural and ethnic roots of the child/family are a valuable part of its identity. In order to understand and communicate with the child/family, cultural sensitivity must be a primary feature of service delivery.

• Children's need for safe and permanent family caretaking can be met by providing appropriate and adequate resources in a timely and effective manner.

• Our approach to working with children and families should be child-centered and family focused with the needs of the child and family dictating the types and mix of services provided.

• Services to children and families shall be individualized based on their unique strengths and needs and should be delivered pursuant to an individualized plan, constructed with the family and their team.

• Services developed through the individualized teaming and planning process should be delivered with sufficient intensity to address presenting and underlying needs and should be well-coordinated.

• Practice is always local: Our work with children and families should be community based, and the focus of services as well as child welfare system management and decision-making responsibility, should rest at the community level.

• Family-centered approaches facilitate planned, appropriate placement when necessary, based on sound information about the needs of the child.

• Family-centered services offer the best hope of breaking the cycle of hopelessness and helplessness that engulfs many families. Families should be supported and encouraged to access services.

• Intervention into the life of children and families should ideally offer as much service as necessary to achieve intended goals, and no more.

• The rights to privacy and confidentiality must be treated with respect when assisting children and families.


Practice Framework

A practice framework encompasses the range of the major aspects and activities of child welfare practice and service delivery. Core practice functions include: engaging families and assembling families’ individual teams; assessing children and families strengths and needs; collaboratively developing and implementing case plans; involving and supporting parents and caregivers in decision making; and monitoring and modifying services. The following diagram highlights the relationship between core practice functions. Ultimately, these core practice functions, and the many initiatives, strategies, steps, interventions, approaches and activities within them, are intended to drive the service delivery process to achieve the outcomes of ensuring child safety, strengthening family functioning, achieve permanency for children, and meet the children and families well-being needs.


Core Practice Functions of Family Centred Practice

Family-centered engagement: Working with families and youth is at the core of good family centered practice. To conduct assessment, case planning, and case management successfully, caseworkers must be skilled in communicating with children, youth, and families to help them strengthen interpersonal, parenting, and problem-solving skills. The goal of family engagement is to build strengths-based, trusting, and working relationships with children and families. When engaging families child welfare professionals should:

• Listen carefully

• Demonstrate respect and empathy for family members

• Develop an understanding of the family's past experiences, current situation, concerns, and strengths

• Respond to concrete needs quickly

• Establish the purpose of involvement with the family

• Be aware of one's own biases and prejudices

• Validate the participatory role of the family

• Be consistent, reliable, and honest


Building the family’s team: The purpose of the family’s team is to ensure the skills, abilities and technical assistance needed to assist the family in achieving its individual goals are actively involved in the planning and service delivery process. The family team always begins with the child and family and the composition of other team members will vary, but be based on the child and family direction and needs. Team members may include formal service providers, such as; Children’s Legal Services, teachers, therapists, foster parents and Guardians ad Litem.

Teams may also include informal supports such as relatives, friends, and other community supports. Effective teamwork requires coordination across the family’s team to improve the integration and quality of service provision.


Family-centered assessment: Assessment forms the foundation of effective practice with children and families. Family-centered assessment focuses on the whole family, values family participation and experience, and respects the family's culture and ethnicity. Family-centered assessment helps families identify their strengths, needs, and resources and develop a service plan that assists them in achieving and maintaining safety, permanency, and well-being. There are many phases and types of family-centered assessment, including screening and initial assessment, safety and risk assessment, and comprehensive family assessment. Assessment in child welfare is intended to provide a big-picture understanding of the families’ strengths and underlying needs and should be across the service team. Assessment is always ongoing.


Family-centered case planning: Family-centered case planning ensures the involvement and participation of family and other needed team members in all aspects of case planning, so services are tailored to best address the family's needs and strengths. It includes the family members' recommendations regarding the types of services that will be most helpful to them, timelines for achieving the plan, and expected outcomes for the child and family. Case planning requires frequent updates based on the caseworker and family's assessment of progress toward goals. Case plans should be well thought out, focused on outcomes, and offer logical strategies, that if implemented with adequate intensity, will drive the change process towards achieving outcomes for children and families. Case plans may include formal services, such as counseling, parenting classes or service for substance abuse or mental health issues. Case planning may also include assisting families with meeting practical needs, such as assisting the family with needs such as food, housing, transportation, employment, income support, providing information on child development, and helping build and daily living skills.


Family-centered case management and monitoring and modifying service delivery:

Through frequent, planned contact, the family-centered practitioner assists the family in achieving the goals and objectives of the service plan. This includes helping families access a range of supports and services and creating opportunities for them to learn and practice new skills. Family centered case management includes communication and planning with multiple service systems to ensure provision of appropriate services and assess service effectiveness and client progress.

Families are encouraged to use their skills to access resources, fully participate in services, and evaluate their progress toward desired goals and outcomes. When interventions are not working, the case manager, working in collaboration with the team, must adjust strategies and services in order to continue to achieving the child and family’s goals.


Working with community resources: Family-centered practitioners view all family members, including maternal and paternal relatives, fictive kin, and informal helpers, as important resources and sources of support for the family. They are skilled in engaging informal and formal community resources by involving them, as appropriate, in family assessment and case planning and in providing ongoing support to families before, during, and after services are ended by the formal child welfare agency and other community agencies. Elements of effective service planning with families include engaging families and youth; providing direct assistance with challenges the family is facing, including counseling, parent coaching, and modeling; and continuing to assess with the family their strengths, needs, and progress.


Advocating for families: Caseworkers advocate for services for individual families and help families learn to advocate for themselves and negotiate with service systems to obtain needed help. Caseworkers can also play a prominent role in empowering and advocating for families to become interdependent members of the community. Family advocacy focuses on the principles of family development, communication skills for workers, and promoting the participation of community residents and families in the design of services.



The discussed, core values, guiding principles and core practice functions provide a foundational framework for child welfare practice. Family-centered practice is the result of child welfare professionals completing their case activities associated with the core practice functions in accordance with, and guided by, the values, goals and principles of the family-centered model of practice.



1. Family Centred Practice-Department of Education and Training


2. Family Centred Practice: Empowerment and Self Efficacy


3. Capacity Building for Integrated Family Centred Practice


4. Building Family Capacity- Child Welfare Information Gateway