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Children's Medical Services - Special services for children with special needs
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Infant Toddler Development Training
Module 5, Lesson 1

Family Systems Approach

According to the literature, family systems theory refers to an examination of family functioning from the viewpoint that all members of the family impact on each other and affect how the family functions. Family systems theory is often used in early intervention and special education. This "family system approach" to viewing a family requires that professionals understand the important effect all family members have on each other and the child. The family, not just the child, is the unit with which the professional works. Positive changes made in and for the family maximize potential benefits for the child. This approach is supported in the Early Steps service delivery system in its family-centered emphasis, and in the use of ecological assessments which view children in the context of their families and support the family's assessment of their own concerns, priorities and resources as it relates to their child and their needs.

When looking at families from a family systems approach, four areas of family life are examined. These are:

  • Family structure - the structure and makeup of the family - its characteristics and organization. Ask yourself what might affect the family's characteristics and organization.
  • Family interaction - ways family members interact to meet their needs and the role parents play. Think for a minute about the father and the mother. List some factors and questions you might consider that contribute to family interactions.
  • Family functions - activities the family engages in to meet its needs. What functions does each family member perform? List some ideas and questions you might consider that impact family functioning.
  • Family life-cycle - involves changes the family goes through that may alter structure as well as how the family deals with changes in children as they grow and mature? What are some things to think about when you look at the family life-cycle?

Note: When looking at family life, it is very important to view it from the perspective of the family. What does the family see? What is important to the family?

The interaction among and between family members is the process of family relationship building. All these things contribute to the entity we know as "family". The family systems approach defines several interaction sub-systems within families that affect the family's functioning. These include:

  • Marital Interactions - between husband and wife. (These interactions would also be found between a single parent and a significant other with whom the parent shares his/her life).
  • Parent and Child Interactions - parent-child and child-parent.
  • Sibling Interactions - child-child.
  • Extended Family Interactions - extra-familial, friends, community.

Reflect back on pages 1 to 6 in Our Journey with Families: Service Delivery in Natural Environments in Rural Areas Think about how the family systems approach is evident in this case study.

doctor portrait Within the Early Steps service delivery system, children are viewed in conjunction with their families and not in isolation. Just as the family systems approach looks at the interrelatedness of family members, families should also be viewed within the context of their relationship to the community. This community includes friends, co-workers, agencies, schools, child care, the medical services, etc. It is the wider system that has an effect on families and can support family functioning in a positive manner. The advantage of using a systems perspective is that we are viewing family members as a whole, mindful of the interactions and relationships occurring within the family as well as looking beyond the immediate family to the outside interactions and supports that affect them.

 

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