Working with Families:
Robyn Munford and Jackie Sanders
Social and community workers are involved in the daily lives of families. Their work requires them to make judgements about how families can be supported to care for their children. In Aotearoa/New Zealand the general population is concerned about the high rate of child abuse and violence towards children. Horrific events sharply focus our mind on what is happening inside families and beg the question about communities of support for families, who face so many daily challenges that they require assistance to care for their children. Social and community workers often struggle to find more effective ways of working with families. Strengths-based approaches have become a strong influence in addressing the challenges with which families are confronted (Saleeby 2002). This chapter, based on research on families in Aotearoa/New Zealand (Munford and Sanders 1999; Munford et al. 2001, Munford and Sanders 2003), examines how strengths-based approaches can contribute to our understanding of working with families.
The chapter begins by exploring current ideas on social work practice and how they connect with a strengths-based approach. It then provides a context for understanding the lives of families and children and briefly considers the Aotearoa/New Zealand context. The chapter then focuses upon key themes in strengths approaches. Finally, we consider the ways in which the principles of the strengths approach have been applied in social work practice with families. Here we discuss in detail the way in which the broad strengths philosophy has informed practice. There are connections here to community development given that a key strategy of strengths-based approaches is to harness informal and 'naturally occurring networks' to support families within their neighbourhoods and communities of interest (Munford and Sanders 1999, p.94).