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Family Centred Practice

Summary of an article by Martin O’Connor, Clinical Psychologist with many years’ experience of working with children with disabilities and their families

A family-centred approach is now seen nationally and internationally as best practice in supporting the development, learning and well-being of children with disability or developmental delay.

All children develop and learn through taking part in daily life and activities with their family, school or pre-school. Taking part is interacting with people and objects, not being on the side-line watching. Every child has individual strengths and interests as well as needs which are best met in everyday ordinary life, and children with a disability should not be treated differently.

The relationships a child has with parents, brothers and sisters, family members and other children are very important. Does this present special challenges for children with disabilities and their families? Yes! Parents may struggle regarding how best to support the development, learning and wellbeing of their child. Often there is fear of the future and the unknown. There may be a sense of starting on a journey not of one’s own choosing. However, there is also a discovery of personal strength and resilience and renewed hope for the future.

Professionals have a very important role in providing the sensitive and informed supports which are needed for children with disabilities and their families, so that they can meaningfully take part in family and daily life. We know that all young children develop and learn through repeated interactions with the important people in their lives and with familiar materials such as toys. Children with a disability in particular need lots of opportunities to practice skills during the course of everyday life. These opportunities in daily life may need to be prepared for by professionals and parents working together and identifying goals around what is most important for parents as they see their child’s needs.

Taking a full part in daily family, pre-school, school and community life might not come easily to many children with disabilities. It requires strong, sensitive relationships between families and health and education professionals. There is now strong evidence that a family-centred approach helps to improve:-

·         Child behaviour and wellbeing

·         Family quality of life

·         The value of different supports to families, for example the wider family, friends and professionals

·         Family satisfaction with services

·         Parents’ feelings of self-confidence .

An Overview of Family-Centred Practice - by Martin O'Connor