A Focus on Family-Driven Care

In any treatment or recovery setting, family involvement is essential. It promotes positive outcomes for children and youth in all the important sectors: education, mental health, physical health, child welfare, and juvenile justice. But family engagement isn’t always a given.

Why is “Family-Driven Care” Important?

In any child or adolescent treatment setting, family involvement is essential. Family involvement promotes positive outcomes for children and youth in all systems, including child welfare, juvenile justice, education, mental health, and public health. But family engagement isn’t always guaranteed.

Service organizations for children and youth must intentionally incorporate family-driven care practices, policies, and processes within their structures. Not only does this benefit the children and youth receiving care, it also strengthens and improves family dynamics overall.

But What is Family-Driven Care?

Family-driven care can be summarized in a few major keywords: involvement, responsibility, and resources. To expand the definition, according to the Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health, family-driven care should follow ten broad guidelines for how to bring family members into the care process:

  • Shared decision-making and responsibility
  • Access to accurate and complete information
  • Provider-driven to family-driven
  • Supportive resources
  • Families as primary advocates
  • Against stigmas that create barriers
  • Access to peer-support
  • Value for diversity and family culture
  • Family involvement in funding and policies
  • Community connectedness 

In family-driven care, treatment staff collaborate with family members in planning and decision-making regarding their children’s and youth’s needs, plans, and goals.

The Importance of Impacting the System

Since we know that no organization operates in a vacuum, it’s important to consider how family-driven care relates to the greater system. According to a study issued by the Association of Children’s Residential Centers (ACRC), residential treatment providers can start making family-driven care the norm in three major ways:

  • Legislation & Regulations
  • Higher Education
  • Advocacy

Legislation makes all the difference. And at the federal and state levels, changes can be made to help promote family-driven care. These rulings can impact funding, restrictions on care offerings, and how biological parents are involved in the foster care system. 

Changes are also made at the professional level within education and child service organizations, beginning with how staff members are educated and trained. In higher education settings, the curriculum that students learn will determine how much or little family-driven care elements they implement in their practices. Moreover, practicums and social work internships can play a huge role in how trainees learn professional standards. Additionally, organizations must ensure that all initial and ongoing training in their organizations encompass current and best practice information.

Family-driven care can also be highlighted by direct advocacy from families. When family members are encouraged to share their stories and be involved in campaigns and public awareness, they bring the human element to residential treatment. 

The Power of Parents in Family-Driven Care

On the role of parents, the study cited above explains that “residential treatment…struggles with a mindset in which parents are categorically seen as the cause of the problems that children have.” But this mindset is a barrier to family-driven care and the benefits it provides for both the families and the children/youth. 

If we want to start changing this mindset, positive, safe and meaningful parental engagement is the place to start. Parents and caregivers can serve in various roles that contribute to their child’s progress and success in achieving family goals.

Parents can participate in roles that may include:

  • Collaborator in service planning
  • Encourager
  • Overseer of services
  • Treatment monitor
  • Parent-peer support provider
  • Advocate
  • Decision-maker
  • Cultural broker
  • Emotional allies
  • Example for others
  • Reducer of stigmas

These are only a few of the many roles that parents and caregivers can perform in support of their children and youths in residential care or treatment centers. 

Family-Driven Care in Residential Treatment

Although the impact and benefits are clear, implementing family engagement is not an easy, “one-size-fits-all” process. One of the biggest challenges of seeing family-driven work in residential treatment centers is the partnership between the family and the staff. This partnership can be benefited in two main ways: communication and family resources. 

First, the success of a child or youth’s progress is highly dependent on both staff and families and how prepared they are to communicate and collaborate. A lack of communication with and support for families is associated with lower levels of family engagement. Simple fixes like live phone attendants, translation services, and prompt response time are easy ways that staff can keep family members engaged. 

Second, providing resources for both staff and families makes sure that everyone has the hard skills that they need to succeed. These resources should be hands-on. For staff, professional development on family-driven care can help prepare them on how to partner and collaborate. For parents, direct access to staff members and connection to other parents can minimize a sense of isolation and powerlessness. Since difficult conversations are inevitable, a warm and hospitable environment can go a long way. 

In terms of measuring an organization’s level of communication and resource availability, it’s encouraged for the staff to take self-assessments to gauge their attitudes, beliefs, and readiness to work with families as equal partners. By creating intentional family-driven care approaches and practices, organizations can express their specific goals and methods that are unique to their foundational mission.


Family-driven care becomes an essential component of any strategy that is working toward a culture of shared responsibility. And ultimately, this improves outcomes for the children and youth receiving the services. 

Engaging families in our communities requires a shared effort with leadership, educators, providers, and community members. This commitment to engage families in purposeful ways results in helping them support their children’s development, healing, and overall well-being.

To learn more about our services and how we can assist you in getting the care you need, contact us here at VQ.