The first line of defense in child welfare services is to support, reinforce, and strengthen the ability of parents and children to meet the responsibilities of their respective statuses. Supportive services are designed for children living in their own homes. In these instances, both parents are generally present and show some willingness and capacity to enact their roles effectively. However, there may be difficulties in the parent--child relationship as a result of parent--child conflict or as a reflection of marital conflict.
We start with supportive services because it is, logically, the first service to use when a family needs help with a parent--child problem. We always act on the supposition that until proven otherwise, the best place for the child is in his own home, cared for by his own parents. Supportive services are an exemplification of this orientation.
In making use of such services, the family remains structurally intact. The child can remain, and be maintained, in his own home despite some malfunction in the parent--child relationship system. In offering supportive services, the agency does not take over the responsibility for discharging any of the role functions of either parent or child. The service always remains external to the family's social structure. Supportive service is different from supplementary services, for instance, where some significant aspect of the role is performed by some other parental figure, such as a homemaker, or by some social institution, such as the income maintenance programs.
The two principal agencies offering supportive services are the family service agencies and the child guidance clinics. The family service agencies intervene more frequently through service to the parent; the child guidance clinic, through service to the child. Both agencies hope to effect changes that will enable parents and child to live together with greater satisfaction and less friction. The aim is to lessen the danger of family disruption by improving the social functioning of family members.
The work of family service agencies and child guidance units is one significant component of services to children in their own homes, designed ultimately so that the child can continue to live in his own home.