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:

  • Biological parent/s, adoptive parent/s, stepparent/s, siblings, extended relatives;
  • Those providing care eg. foster parents; and/or
  • Those identified by young people as significant providers of care and/or support.

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.[1]

This section contains:

  • Information on ‘Family-Aware Youth Work Practice’;
  • Some family services; and,
  • Resources including more services, information and a date for your diary.

Note: All of the service profiles in the Big Red Book include information on their work with families.  

‘Family-Aware’ Youth Work Practice

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:


Principles of Family-Aware Youth Work Practice


  1. Physical and psychological safety for young people and their family members takes priority.

    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.

  2. Early developmental experiences, including attachment relationships and traumatic events, have a significant influence on young people’s ongoing development.

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.


  1. There are key protective factors in the family domain that help to promote a young person’s health and wellbeing that need to be considered within the context of effective youth work.

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.


  1. Relationships between family members and a young person need to be considered within the scope of age-appropriate developmental behaviour.

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.


  1. Workers have an important but relatively brief role in the lives of young people and families, and have a responsibility to identify and/or facilitate more enduring relationships.

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.

  1. Family-aware practice communicates the message that families can and should be part of the solution in most circumstances.

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.


  1. The right to privacy and confidentiality must be treated with the utmost respect for both families and young people, while recognising that communication between young people and their families is an important component of connectedness.

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.


  1. A family’s cultural background is a valuable aspect of its identity, and cultural sensitivity and understanding are crucial when working with young people and their families.

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.

[1] 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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