A video and some tips on family engagement

This is a useful short video (produced by the Ontario Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health) introducing some key concepts relating to engaging families. While its focus is child and youth mental health, it is just as relevant to a range of other contexts.

It emphasises the importance of listening to families, being led by families and building on their strengths and resources—all of which are important in strengths-based practice and asset-based community development.

The Centre also identifies six tips for engaging families at a service delivery level:

  1. View families as experts
  2. Promote active participation in care
  3. Invest in relationships and strengthen therapeutic alliance
  4. Address barriers to engagement
  5. Tailor services to fit family’s needs and preferences
  6. Ensure culturally responsive services

In order to really engage families, practitioners need to be willing to give up their position of power as “experts”. Jim Ife (2013) differentiates between “universal” knowledge that applies in all situations and “local” knowledge that applies to the specific context. While universal knowledge can be important in working with families and communities, local knowledge is generally more important. Families know their context much better than practitioners and we need to be skilled at REALLY listening to families.

In thinking about evidence-based practice, there is a big difference between ensuring that decisions are “consistent with family and client values” and incorporating “family experience and insights”. As practitioners we need to continually remind ourselves that families are experts and we need to be guided by them.

I would thus be inclined to reword the 6 tips so that they place greater emphasis on the expertise and role of families. I would consider something like:

  1. View families as experts
  2. Discover and build on family strengths (We need to keep reminding ourselves to actively look for family strengths and to build on them. Starting with strengths rather than needs can help with engagement)
  3. Promote active engagement in decision-making and care (Engagement infers a more active role than participation, and I included a reminder that families should be engaged in decision-making and not just care)
  4. Invest in relationships and strengthen partnerships with families (“Therapeutic alliance” is the domain of expert practitioners rather than families)
  5. Work with families to address barriers to engagement (Emphasises the importance of working with families)
  6. Tailor services to fit family’s needs, priorities and preferences (I was tempted to replace needs with priorities, but they are slightly different.)
  7. Ensure culturally responsive services

Moving from a position of power can be challenging so, as the video emphasises, family engagement needs to be at the heart of our work and it needs to become part of how our organisation thinks and works.


Ife, J. W. (2013). Community development in an uncertain world: Vision, analysis and practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

If you liked this post please follow my blog, and you might like to look at:

  1. Rethinking the roles of families and clients in evidence-based practice
  2. Bottom-up community development
  3. What is asset-based community-driven development (ABCD)?
  4. An example of asset-based community development (Video)
  5. What is the Strengths Perspective?
  6. Building relationships

If you find any problems with the blog, (e.g., broken links or typos) I’d love to hear about them. You can either add a comment below or contact me via the Contact page.

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, environmentalist, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace, sustainability.
This entry was posted in Families & parenting, Strengths-based approaches & ABCD and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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