Family Support as an Approach to Working with Children and Families in Ireland: An Explorative Study of Past and Present Perspectives among Pioneers and Practitioners
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In Ireland, the value and merit of Family Support as an approach to working with children is debated and contested. From a policy and practice perspective, Family Support is at times recognised and applauded as a worthwhile orientation in addressing difficulties in children's lives or conversely demeaned or ignored. As Family Support is a relatively new orientation in children's services there has been little consideration as to the factors which have shaped and informed its growth. A lack of clarity and vagueness remains in policy and practice terms as to what Family Support is. Furthermore, a purposely designed postgraduate education programme in Family Support Studies delivered by the Child and Family Research Centre, at the School of Political Science and Sociology, National University of Ireland, Galway has not been evaluated in terms of its influence on participating students. Considering this gap in knowledge, the overarching aim of this study therefore is to review the growth of Family Support as an approach to working with children and families and families in Ireland, and to consider current perspectives on practice, including the influence of academic learning attained through specialised postgraduate education in the area. To establish a theoretical base for the study five theoretical areas were examined in detail. These were family and Family Support, underpinning theoretical basis and perspectives for Family Support practice, the orientation of welfare services including those from a Family Support and child protection stance, frameworks used to categorise the delivery of services and multidisciplinary postgraduate adult education. Using core messages from the theory a tentative conceptual model for Family Support practice was constructed. A mixed method triangulated methodological approach was used over two phases. The first phase involved pioneers and key informants in children's welfare while the second phase concerned students or graduates of the Family Support Studies programme who are current practitioners in children and families services. Documentary analysis was also conducted on a sample of Family Support research theses. Key findings indicated the arbitrary and subjective nature of the growth of Family Support, and the need for an agreed understanding of Family Support. A number of specific service and practice characteristics which constitute Family Support practice were highlighted. The postgraduate programme was shown to have achieved its original objectives, having a strong influence on a group of practitioners. Using these findings the researcher built on and finalised the conceptual model for the delivery of Family Support. As the findings have implications for the practice, policy and research communities the researcher concludes by suggesting a number of recommendations for each sector.