FNS Work in HF4Y - MtS DEMS HF4Y CoP Call - February 2020

FNS Work in HF4Y - MtS DEMS HF4Y CoP Call - February 2020

Family and Natural Supports (FNS) Work in HF4Y

One of the core principles of HF4Y is “social inclusion and community integration” and one potential housing outcome of HF4Y is that young people are supported to return to a home of their choosing, which may result in contact with a meaningful adult in their lives. We know from research that connecting young people to family and natural supports leads to positive youth development, so an FNS approach is key to HF4Y. Still, supporting young people to build their family and natural supports can be difficult to prioritize within a HF4Y program when young people may want to focus primarily on improving other outcomes like employment, education, mental health, etc. 

The Making the Shift HF4Y Community of Practice (CoP) took part in a dialogue about doing Family and Natural Supports work within HF4Y programs on February 2, 2020. 

Considerations for doing FNS work within HF4Y: 

  • Start from the beginning. We can be intentional about supporting young people to discuss family and natural supports right at our first points of contact with them (at intake, during our first meeting with youth, etc). Asking questions that allow us to get a sense of where youth are coming from, or that tease out who young people have in their lives, can be helpful in setting up groundwork for discussing these relationships in future case management. 

    • Example questions include:
      ​​​​​​“Who is in your life right now?” “What does that look like?
      “What did growing up look like for you?”
      “Who is coming with you to view this apartment?”

    • Tip: The YAP Tool can help bring up these conversations during assessment.
  • Look for opportunities both big and small to pull in family or natural supports. We can be intentional in our case management to involve family and natural supports when it is safe and appropriate. Though youth will often lead the work in involving their family or natural supports, we can be creative about shifting supports that we provide as case managers to family and natural supports, when these opportunities make sense. Below are some examples of ways to pull in family or natural supports:

    • In safety planning for youth

    • Reaching out to parents when trying to locate a young person (and vice versa - parents will sometimes reach out to program staff about trying to locate a young person)

    • Sharing community resources with family and natural supports

    • A family member or natural support can accompany a young person to an apartment/unit viewing

    • A family member or natural support can make the trip to the food bank or to the grocery store with the youth

  • Based on our experiences, many young people appreciate being asked about family and natural supports. Asking young people about family and natural supports can relay the message to them that we are providing a safe place for them to talk about relationships that are important to them, that their family/natural supports will be welcomed, and that we can help them connect/reconnect to their family/natural supports if that’s something they might eventually be interested in. 

Challenges we face when doing FNS work within HF4Y: 

  • Supporting refugee/newcomer youth to build connections with family or natural supports can be challenging. Often refugee/newcomer youth are isolated from their families who live a great distance away. Or if youth are Canada with their families and their families are deeply involved in cultural communities, it can be difficult for youth to stay connected to those cultural communities when there is family breakdown. Ways to address these challenges include: 

    • Trying to build natural supports where youth are currently involved (in school, at work, etc).  

    • Working with translators/language support to address communication barriers with family. Sometimes families may want to be involved but aren’t able to communicate with program staff. 

  • Navigating family homelessness. Sometimes we work with youth who are the ones providing resources to their families. Ways to address this challenge include:

    • Working with a young person’s family to access other programs. 

  • It can be difficult for youth to visit their families living on reserve because of barriers like distance and limited resources to drive youth to reserves. Technical barriers like lacking Internet to make video calls can also make it challenging to connect youth to their families. We continue to work through how we can address these challenges, especially within the MtS DEMS Indigenous HF4Y program, Endaayaang.  


Family Aware Youth Work Practice: A tool for practitioners to reflect on and develop their practice to consider the role of family (and natural/chosen supports) in a young person’s life; part of the Jesuit Social Services’ Strong Bonds project. This resource describes eight principles of family aware youth work which draw on literature regarding risk and protective factors, developmental attachment theories, and strengths-based practice with young people.
Learn more >

“Investing in Youth by Investing in Their Families and Natural Supports: Shelter Diversion Using a Family and Natural Supports Approach”: This article was featured in the October 2019 issue of Parity Magazine. It discusses the shift that the Boys and Girls Club of Calgary made towards working with young people and their family/natural supports to improve relationships and access resources, within the context of their emergency shelter Avenue 15. Learn more >