Family dynamics often have a strong influence on the way young people see themselves, others and the world, and influence their relationships, behaviours and their wellbeing. The use of the term ‘family’ may include:
Sometimes workers focus on the young person in isolation and regard the young person’s family as the cause of all the young person’s problems. Workers need to remember they are only involved with a young person for a small portion of their lives. More enduring connections with family should be explored and supported to optimise a young person’s development.
This section contains:
Note: All of the service profiles in the Big Red Book include information on their work with families.
The following information is an excerpt from ‘Family-Aware Youth Work Practice’ from the Jesuit Social Services, Strong Bonds Project.
The use of the term ‘family-aware’ highlights the need to consider the role of family in a young person’s life. The young person remains the central person in a family-aware approach, and it is not suggested that a youth worker become a family work expert. This approach looks at how workers can work better with young people by recognising and facilitating ongoing family connections. The principles of family-aware youth practice are outlined below and can be accessed at: http://strongbonds.jss.org.au/workers/professional/familyaware.htm.
Family-aware youth work practice recognises that under certain circumstances, the family home is an unsafe environment for a young person. It also recognises that a young person’s behaviour may place family members at risk. In these situations the need for protection from certain individuals or situations should not be at the expense of maintaining other positive family relationships.
A young person’s behaviour needs to be recognised by workers, families and the young person as communicating past experience and current needs. Understanding and addressing the function of current behaviour and how it relates to a young person’s needs is a more effective long-term strategy for enhancing a young person’s health and wellbeing.
A warm relationship with at least one parent or other family member is integral to a young person’s development and functioning. Strengths-based practice is a positive and empowering way to assess individuals and families and to promote change. Families have a unique set of strengths and values, and building on these strengths assists families to develop the capacity to create positive changes.
Adolescence is a developmental stage where conflict is common between young people and their families, particularly parents. A critical aspect of identity development in adolescence is the need for a secure base from which young people can explore new identities.
Youth workers need to genuinely care about young people, but also have clear professional boundaries around their work. These boundaries include a shared understanding of the time-limited and professionally-bound nature of a youth worker’s role. It is important that more enduring relationships beyond the young person/worker relationship are highlighted.
Historically, the focus of youth work on the rights of young people has often meant family has been seen as irrelevant or the cause of a young person’s predicament. Resilience research highlights the benefits of connectedness between young people and their families. There’s a growing realisation that concentrating only on the young person is an ineffective method for producing lasting change. Workers can support families to understand the stages of adolescent development and the tasks associated with each stage.
Young people have the legal right to privacy and confidentiality when working with community services and may provide verbal or written consent for a worker to obtain/release information from/to other people, including family members.
It’s a worker’s responsibility to explore and gain understanding and to take a stance of respect towards families’ experiences. Different issues may arise for young people in newly arrived families, as these young people are often exposed to different social norms and expectations in Australia than those that accord with their families cultural or religious traditions. It is important to gain an understanding of the attitudes and beliefs of all family members in these situations and to be sensitive to cultural issues and family traditions.
 Strong Bonds (Nov 2007) Understanding Families – Family Dynamics, Family-Aware Youth Work Practice, and, Working With Young People. Jesuit Social Services.
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