ENGAGING FAMILIES TO SUPPORT CHILDREN IN CHILD WELFARE CARE
Introduction. Child welfare has been dominated by policies and practices that focus on child safety and protection while much less attention has been given to supporting families to improve parenting and child care. This article examines recent models of family engagement and support in North America, including a new practice model for children in care.
Purpose. Research evidence is reviewed to demonstrate the need to balance the focus on child protection with services that engage and support families. A new practice model that develops lifetime networks for children in care is summarized.
Results. Although the child protection approach has given needed attention to child safety, it has also resulted in increased investigations for abuse and neglect and more children in care. Evidence suggests that more attention to family involvement leads to increased collaboration with families with related benefits in parenting and child care, although more research is required to assess long term results. Family Finding, a new approach to locating and supporting family members who will provide continuing support for children in care, has the potential to overcome early childhood adversity.
Originality. Child safety and protection remains an important focus in child welfare but it must be balanced with approaches that engage and support families. Research evidence supports more investment in family involvement in child welfare. Although most family support programs focus on preventing children from coming into care, the Family Finding practice model locates and supports family members who play a significant role in nurturing and supporting children in care through to adulthood.
Conclusion. Family Finding for children in care builds on previous models of family engagement and support in child welfare by establishing networks of caring adults for children in care. These have the potential to help overcome early childhood adversity and the trauma experienced by children in care. Social workers and other child welfare workers must develop the knowledge and skills to implement Family Finding and other types of family support models to help build a new paradigm for practice in child welfare. It is also important that professional social work education programs incorporate these approaches within their curricula they are to play an important role in changing the way we practice child welfare.
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