In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Family Services

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Textbooks
  • Manuals, Guides, and Reference Resources
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • European and International Views
  • Policy
  • Dissemination and Implementation

Related Articles Expand or collapse the "related articles" sectionabout

Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section


Social Work Family Services
Toni Naccarato, Katharine Briar-Lawson, Brian D. Roland
  • LAST REVIEWED: 01 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 December 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0073


Encompassing a broad range of programs, practices, and strategies, family services address individual family members and include children, parents, and elders as well as the entire family system. Services may include resources, such as income supports, counseling, and psychoeducational programs, as well as caregiving, such as child or elder care. Some services are provided by social workers and allied professionals, such as marriage and family therapists, while others are provided by peers or paraprofessional staff. Family services tend to be focused on one or two generational supports and strategies, such as a parent and a child or an elder and an adult child caregiver. Intergenerational services that mobilize all generations to solve problems together or to receive services simultaneously are less frequently employed. The emergence of family therapy models has added to the diversity in approaches to family services. Family services vary depending on whether the issue is alcohol and substance abuse, mental health, child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, delinquency, disabilities, school performance, poverty, parent-child conflict, marital conflict, or caregiving stress. Whether services are covered by publicly provided funds versus private insurance also determines the type and range of supports offered. Given the vast literature and diverse fields of practice, such as addictions, juvenile delinquency, mental health, schools, and aging, this entry focuses many of the selections on public sector families and often those involved with the child welfare system. Diversity and the changing composition of families add to the complexity in services and challenge practitioners, policy makers, and researchers to address their unique needs.

Introductory Works

Family services in recent decades have focused on families who receive services from the public sector. Those with financial means often receive individual, marital, or family therapy and may use private insurance to pay for services from private practitioners. Family preservation, including in-home and intensive technologies, multisystemic therapy approaches, and family group conferencing, are more recent service strategies to help public sector families. Brief strategies (task centered, cognitive-behavioral, or psychoeducational services) and concrete services, such as income supports, are part of a long tradition in services to public sector families. Family-centered practice is delineated in the foundational work in Hartman and Laird 1983, and family preservation is depicted in the groundbreaking work of Homebuilders (Whittaker, et al. 1990). Since the 1950s the family therapy movement, led by work such as Satir 1983, has helped build the foundation for developments in family therapy services. Some introductory works have served as foundations for the advancement of public sector service strategies. For example, Reid 1985 offers an empirically based task-centered approach, while Berg 1994 is a solution-focused strategy applied often with public sector families. More community-based developments that also focus on economic supports for families are discussed in Adams and Nelson 1995 and Schorr 1997. McGoldrick, et al. 2005 is one of the classics in family therapy.

  • Adams, Paul, and Kristine Nelson, eds. 1995. Reinventing human services: Community- and family-centered practice. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.

    Economic supports, integration of community, and individual practice are presented. Strategies include the British model of community social work, family preservation, comprehensive service schools, and a new model for policing. Systems changes in family-centered social services and an integrated strategy for family and economic empowerment are discussed.

  • Berg, Insoo Kim. 1994. Family-based services: A solution-focused approach. New York: W. W. Norton.

    A solution-focused approach emphasizes competencies, strengths, and resiliencies that help empower children and families to effectively deal with issues. Chapters focus on the application of a solution-focused model of intervention, including the initial, middle, and termination stages; defining problems; developing cooperation; setting goals; and creating contracts.

  • Hartman, Ann, and Joan Laird. 1983. Family-centered social work practice. New York: Free Press.

    Provides the framework and rationale for using a family-centered approach for assessing and intervening with public sector families. Drawing on an ecological approach, specific practice elements include cross-systems and cross-agency collaboration, case management, contracting, and interviewing. Ecological and intergenerational assessments along with tools to discern the structure and functioning of the family system are presented.

  • McGoldrick, Monica, Joe Giordano, and Nydia Garcia-Preto, eds. 2005. Ethnicity and family therapy. 3d ed. New York: Guilford.

    Presents road maps and paradigms for understanding families in relation to their ethnic heritage. The authors draw on historical traits and focus on the ways families retain the cultural characteristics of their heritage. The authors highlight cultural genograms, multisystemic and solution-focused approaches, creative therapy, and intensive brief therapy.

  • Reid, William J. 1985. Family problem solving. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

    Features task-centered strategies, procedures, and phases in serving families. An empirical orientation and collaborative relationships are emphasized. Issues involving communication, metacommunication, and rules for interaction are discussed. Types of interventions and tasks (for example, problem solving, communication, role playing) are specified.

  • Satir, Virginia. 1983. Conjoint family therapy. Palo Alto, CA: Science and Behavior.

    This classic book addresses the dysfunctional and functional family triangle and provides tools for assessing incongruent communication patterns. Ways to foster self-esteem, interpret messages, reeducate, and create rules for interactions are addressed. The effects of stress and marital dysfunction on the family are discussed along with parental and environmental factors that help increase a child’s self-esteem.

  • Schorr, Lisbeth B. 1997. Common purpose: Strengthening families and neighborhoods to rebuild America. New York: Anchor.

    Building on her earlier book, Within Our Reach (1989), Schorr offers innovative proposals to rebuild inner cities and to address the poor and the marginalized. An array of social programs and practices are cited that show promise in improving the life chances of high-risk children. The author discusses ways to scale up pilots.

  • Whittaker, James K., Jill Kinney, Elizabeth M. Tracy, and Charlotte Booth, eds. 1990. Reaching high-risk families: Intensive family preservation in human services. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.

    Introduces the Homebuilders approach to helping high-risk public sector families. Characteristics of family preservation services are discussed along with the history, development, and features of the Homebuilders model. Administrative practices and organizational requisites are presented. Implications for innovation and replication are cited.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.