The place of 'think family' approaches in child and family social work; messages from a process evaluation of an English 'pathfinder' service

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Findings are reported from a process study of an English multi-disciplinary team working with families with long standing and complex problems. The approaches and methods of the team are described and placed in the context of UK policy developments and of UK and USA research on professional practice with families facing multiple difficulties. Basic data are provided on all families referred in the first year and analysed with respect to the first 100 completed cases. A broadly ethnographic research approach is used for the observational study of the team interactions and decision-making on individual cases. For a one-third sub-sample of 33 cases, process and interim outcome data are analysed from information systematically extracted from case records. These are complemented by qualitative data from interviews with managers and caseworkers and by observation of ‘team around the family’ and professionals' meetings. The researchers conclude that the service succeeds in engaging a majority of the referred families who have been hard to reach or hard to change in the past and whose children are either ‘on the edge of care’ or likely to be significantly harmed without the provision of an intensive service. The researchers concluded that improvements were made in the life chances of children in 75% of the families. Aspects of the service identified as associated with more positive outcomes are: the allocation of two key workers (one for the child/ren and one for the parent/s); the centrality of relationship-based practice and flexibility of the approach rather than strict adherence to any particular practice model; the fact that the service is firmly embedded within the statutory children's services department, allowing for continuity of relationships with team around the family members when the intensive service ends; and flexibility about case duration and intensity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)228-236
Number of pages9
JournalChildren and Youth Services Review
Issue number2
Early online date23 Nov 2012
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2013


  • Child protection
  • Intensive-outreach
  • Multi-disciplinary
  • Multi-problem families
  • Relationships
  • Social work methods

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