Academic journal article Child Welfare

Community-Based Family Support and Youth Development: Two Movements, One Philosophy

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Community-Based Family Support and Youth Development: Two Movements, One Philosophy

Article excerpt

The family support and positive youth development movements represent considerable change in both philosophical and programmatic approaches to the delivery of services. This article examines the key elements and the relative success of family support and youth development practice, compares the two streams of literature and programming, and suggests strategies to increase integration.

The community-based family support approach has been hailed by many in the social service field as the best way to work with children and families. On a community level, it promotes integrating existing supports to reduce fragmentation and duplication. On a family level, it uses the strengths perspective to build on family supports and strengths, as well as to empower consumers to shape their own plans and the systems that serve them.

At the same time that acceptance for the family support approach has grown, a parallel approach has gained momentum in the youth services field. Known as youth development, grounded in the philosophy of positive youth development, this movement also integrates community supports, strengthens family functioning, and empowers its consumers to shape their own plans and the programming that affects them. Both movements emphasize that involving consumers in collaborative planning creates more responsive and effective programs. This differs from the idea that consumer involvement serves only as a learning experience for consumers [Saleeby 1992; Maluccio 1981].

Both of these movements promise to bring positive change to existing service systems and to families and youths. This article examines the key elements and the relative success of family support and youth development practice, compares the two streams of literature and programming, and suggests strategies to increase their integration.

A Status Report

The Service System and the Strengths Perspective Social work has always been torn between its desire to be instrumental in empowering the disadvantaged of our society and its desire to become a wanted and respected profession. The danger is that gaining more power for the profession can actually result in usurping power from those it seeks to help; increased authority for the social worker can come from the dependency of the consumer. The strengths perspective leads social work away from any potential for creating dependency. It asks the worker to avoid labeling what is wrong with a consumer, a family, or a community and reminds the worker that he or she does not have the power to fix others problems; only the individuals, families, and communities themselves hold the power to claim ownership of their strengths, their problems, and their own change.

A worker using a strengths perspective focuses on identifying the strengths of an individual or of a community. Saleeby [1992: 8] defines this idea and makes the point that empowerment is "not based on returning the power to the people, but on discovering the power within the people." He says that we must learn to provide opportunities, assail the "victim mindset," stop paternalism, and retire the belief that those in need must give themselves over to a caregiver in order to get well. He quotes Mary Richmond, the mother of social casework, as saying that "individuals have wills and purposes of their own and are not fitted to play a passive part in the world" [Saleeby 1992: 13].

Asserting that the strengths perspective fits well with the ecological perspective, or person-in-environment approach, of social work, Saleeby traces the history of the application of the personin-environment approach to societal treatment of persons with mental illness. This analysis reveals that society's role for persons with mental illness is coming full circle: from being part of daily life in families and communities, to asylums in the countryside, to specially designed residential programs located in cities and, it is hoped, back to family and community life. …

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