Families as Clients, too - MtS DEMS Prevention CoP Call - February 2020

Families as Clients, too - MtS DEMS Prevention CoP Call - February 2020

Families as Clients, too: What does this look like in pratice?

A unique feature of FNS work is that once a young person gives consent to engage with their family or natural support, these individuals also become clients. This requires a shift in mindset and approach to the way supports are organized and administered. Practically speaking, it can also mean that your caseload may quickly increase, and questions come up like: How to maintain ethical boundaries? What supports should be offered? When and how do we offer support in our programs? 

It is important to note that FNS programs across MtS Dems sites and partner organizations all operate within different contexts and with different capacities, so the considerations below can be applied to varying degrees. 

The Making the Shift Prevention Community of Practice (CoP) took part in a dialogue about supporting families and natural supports as clients on February 27, 2020.

Things to consider when engaging with families and natural supports:

  • Shift towards supporting families and natural supports to make choices, and recognizing them as experts. When bringing families and natural supports into the work, it is important to provide them with opportunities to provide meaningful input, like through surveys. Families/natural supports also need to feel like they are being supported in the choices they’re making - that they are recognized as people who hold information and experiences that can be integral to helping formulate a helpful plan for youth. Many families/natural supports are initially apprehensive because they don’t know if they’ll be blamed for a young person’s homelessness. As soon as you shift towards validating their own experiences, it helps as a starting point to address their apprehension. 

    • Example: At one of our programs, staff were supporting a young person who was living with a parent. At one point, staff were considering calling the police on the parent’s behalf to step in and protect when the young person became violent at home. Instead, rather than calling the police on behalf of the parent, staff provided the parent with information and support so the parent themself could make the decision to call the police. 

  • The flexibility of an FNS program makes it a key service for families/natural supports looking for support. Our programs have found that though they may be referring families/natural supports to parent support groups and similar resources, there hasn’t been a lot of uptake. Similarly, families/natural supports may be referred out to counseling services or other external resources, but they continue to rely on staff at FNS programs because service is very low-barrier - FNS workers tend to have more flexibility, services don’t cost anything, programs are mobile, etc.

  • Consider the unit of the family/natural support and the youth as one client. Rather than prioritizing the needs of a young person over the needs of their family/natural support (or vice versa), prioritize everyone’s needs as how they function together as a family unit.

  • Young people have choice and helping families/natural supports understand that is key. Helping families/natural supports shift their own boundaries around what they want to control can help them better support youth. Youth also need to be supported, without judgement or bias from program staff, to understand the importance of creating their own boundaries with family/natural supports. 

    • Example: At one of our programs, a young person felt ready to stop accessing FNS supports even though they had emerging mental health issues so their family felt that they should continue working with FNS. Staff worked with this family to respect the youth’s decision, letting them know that the youth can always return to access further FNS support and mental health supports when they’re ready.

  • Collect strategies and approaches to use in different scenarios with family/natural supports. Since FNS work can change so much depending on the youth and family/natural supports involved and their specific needs, it can be useful to keep different strategies and approaches in your back pocket to use when necessary or applicable. Examples of strategies and approaches you can use:

    • Ask families/natural supports if they can meet just once so you can gather information from them 

    • Speak about the importance of family in the work. As case managers, when you’re bringing family/natural supports into the fold, you can tell them “You know this youth better than I do. You’re the expert. Can you help me help them?”

    • Meet when and where it’s convenient for families/natural supports


Family Matters Report: This report profiling Eva’s Family Reconnect program discusses the important role that family can play in helping young people transition to adulthood, and the key recognition that self-sufficiency entails establishing important relationships and relying on others. Learn more >