The Family Support Model is built on a history that grew out of the women’s movement. The women’s movement brought about not just the change in women’s status and expectations but identified the oppression of women and children in both society and families. Alongside and central to the women’s movement grew the realisation that domestic violence, child physical and sexual abuse were prevalent and needed to be addressed. We believed that women and children were important and contested the prevailing views of the time that if the head of the family was willing to earn and share his wages, the family’s basic needs could be met the mood of an adult (usually the man) should determine the emotional well being and safety of his wife and children, and it was nobody else’s business what went on behind closed doors and Government should not interfere except in the most extreme circumstances.
We also believed that families (in all their forms) were central to society and to the nation.
“The new research yielded a general pattern of findings indicating that the family to a greater extent than any other context influenced the capacity of individuals of all ages to learn and to succeed in other settings – preschool and school, in peer groups, in higher education, in the workplace, the community and the nation as a whole”
Other social trends were changing … Single parenthood was being increasingly accepted and financially supported, women were entering the workforce (but not necessarily gaining equal pay) in greater numbers and poverty and generational unemployment had been identified as issues which impacted on children’s growth development and long term outcomes. The romantic notion of ‘genteel poverty’ and the ‘salt of the earth’ working class was no longer used to cover up the negative impacts of poverty, particularly on children.
We found these changing societal patterns meant much of our early work was with single parents, mostly women. Women who had been subjected to domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault placed in out of home care as children and often had had minimal schooling and work opportunities.
In the early years (1979 onward) much of our work focused on the empowerment of women through providing information, access to other key services and encouraging women to use their own wisdom and experience as a catalyst for change within the families.
As we are able to share across the sector (through FamS) our developing practice wisdom and overseas research we have continued to develop and refine our work with individual families incorporating new learnings into current practice. eg, research around early brain development influences our work with new and young parents and informs our current parenting practice. As the complexities of family life grow and continue to do so; so has our practice wisdom, access to relevant training identified as being important along with highly professional casework supervision of all staff.
Some of our early history and practice is somewhat uncomfortable now and the ‘anti-male’ views of the time have changed. While still taking a strong stance, never condoning violence or abuse, we know that children need their fathers and fathers are capable and willing of providing vital modelling, love and support to their children. Men are now fully accepted into the life and work of Family Support Services if they share the values around safety and misuse of power.
Family Support Services are professional, dynamic, fluid and flexible. As the Family Support ‘movement’ grew, their work with individual families inspired workers to become catalysts for broader change in their communities. As they identified service or legislative gaps they became vocal, articulate advocates for families and children. They fought to establish refuges for women and children, for court support for battered women, for changes to domestic violence legislation, for support for single parents for the protection of children. They established services for the marginalised and disadvantaged.
Look at the history of basic community services in communities and somewhere in the files you will find the name of a Family Support staff member who chaired a meeting, formed a committee, participated in fundraising to establish a child care centre, lobbied for funding for a Court support scheme, a child protection interest group and so on. They become champions for social justice and through their professional and personal efforts enhanced and strengthened the communities in which they lived and worked.
This capacity to drive change and participate in the development of services is demonstrated by the many Family Support Services which now sponsor one or more additional funded services which add to their ability to provide a seamless service to their families.
The principles that drove the development of the Family Support Model were originally the first six and the following three were added in 2003 to recognise changing community values. The principles are supported by a Statement of Premises. It is worth examining how these principles influence practice.
Statement of Premises
- Assuring the wellbeing of families is a hall mark of a healthy society and requires universal access to support programs and services
- Family wellbeing is linked to adequate economic and social support
- Families exist as part of an ecological system
- Enabling families to build on their own strengths and capacities promotes the healthy development of all members of the family
- The power of families to take action to improve the wellbeing of their members is increased when they have access to information and resources.