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

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Reference Resources
  • Manuals and Guides
  • Journals
  • Therapy with Impoverished and Multiproblem Families
  • Evaluation
  • Family Intervention Techniques
  • Family Assessment

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Social Work Families
Heather Coleman
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 October 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 October 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0106


This entry identifies family resources pertaining to social work family theories. Given the multidisciplinary work in family therapy, this entry also includes classical works from related disciplines. Social work’s involvement with families has taken two paths, spawning the need to present resources from both categories. The first category falls under what is known as family casework, family social work, or home-based family services, which unfold in the home and community of families facing ecological challenges. The second path is family therapy that occurs in offices and focuses on internal family dynamics. Social workers in both streams draw from similar family theory; however, family social work also integrates ecosystems theory. The origins of family social work can be traced to Mary E. Richmond, who advocated for a family approach. In the late 1950s allied disciplines took an interest in families of schizophrenics and developed family therapy as a method of intervention. Since then family therapy has evolved, and ideas have been cumulative. Social workers have also worked alongside allied disciplines, often making it difficult to delineate social works’ stand-alone contributions. Nichols and Schwartz 2009 (cited under Textbooks) acknowledged the contributions of early social workers to family theory.


Several textbooks present family social work and family therapy. Some texts overview family theory, while others integrate ecological and family systems theory. Nichols and Schwartz 2009 is an excellent graduate-level text that covers the major concepts of family therapy and traces the evolution of family therapy thinking. Collins, et al. 2013; Kilpatrick and Holland 2009; and van Hook 2014 approach family social work from a generalist perspective and are suitable for undergraduates. Maluccio, et al. 2002 broadens family practice into schools and the community. Boyd Webb 2011 adds to social work family theory by focusing on families with children.

  • Boyd Webb, Nancy. 2011. Social work practice with children. 3d ed. New York: Guilford.

    Provides knowledge needed for effective, culturally competent practice with children and families. It includes current research on child development, attachment, trauma, bullying, autism, childhood obesity, and blended families. The author presents a framework for developmentally informed assessment and describes a variety helping methods, using case examples and research evidence. Assessment forms can be downloaded.

  • Collins, Donald, Catheleen Jordan, and Heather Coleman. 2013. An introduction to family social work. 4th ed. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.

    This generalist family book targets undergraduate and first-year Masters of Social Work (MSW) students. It places family functioning within an ecological context and emphasizes resilience. Intervention unfolds through the stages, using family systems theory as a foundation. It also synthesizes family work from major schools of family theories. Enhanced material culturally competent work utilizes common cultural themes.

  • Kilpatrick, Allie C., and Thomas P. Holland. 2009. Working with families: An integrative model by level of functioning. 5th ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

    This is a good textbook for family social workers. It classifies family needs according to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and advocates for an ecosystemic and integrated approach.

  • Maluccio, Anthony, Barbara Pine, and Elizabeth Tracy. 2002. Social work practice with families and children. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

    Presents a family-centered, social network, and school-based approach; focuses on clients from vulnerable populations including the poor, people of color, and recent immigrants. Family practice occurs within the context of welfare reform and managed care. Appendices contain information about tools and instruments that support practice, child welfare resource centers, and electronic resources.

  • McClennan, Joan. 2010. Social work and family violence: Theories, assessment and intervention. New York: Springer.

    Discusses three types of family violence. It provides information on assessments and interventions with adult and childhood abuse victims, child witnesses, dating violence, elderly victims, and perpetrators. Assessment evidence-based treatments are provided. The book stresses the need for the deliberate selection of services and discusses legislative action. Includes case studies and a discussion about court.

  • Nichols, Michael P. 2013. Family therapy: Concepts and methods. 10th ed. Boston: Pearson.

    A graduate-level text that covers the major bodies of family therapy theory. It also discusses major research findings with regard to family therapy.

  • Nichols, Michael P., and Richard C. Schwartz. 2009. Family therapy: Concepts and methods. 8th ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon/Pearson.

    An excellent graduate-level book that situates major concepts within historical and current family therapy theories. Recent editions acknowledge social work’s contribution. The book depicts family therapy as a rich and vibrant field and traces evolutionary shifts in thinking over the last sixty years of the 20th century.

  • van Hook, Mary Patricia. 2014. Social work practice with families: A resiliency-based approach. 2d ed. Chicago: Lyceum.

    Examines models of contemporary family intervention, with resilience and strength-based practice forming. It emphasizes appropriate selection of a treatment model based on the family needs. The book presents cases studies from across North America and also includes material on military families, substance abuse, and the family life cycle.

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