Prevention and early intervention in strengthening families and relationships: Challenges and implications

Prevention and early intervention in strengthening families and relationships: Challenges and implications

Elly Robinson and Robyn Parker

AFRC Issues No. 2 — February 2008

There has been a significant shift in service delivery to families and individuals in recent years, from a deficit-based focus on problems to a competency-based, health-oriented approach that recognises and highlights strengths and resources (Tomison, 2002; Walsh, 2003). This shift has partly come about as a result of research interest in the concept of resilience, which focuses on strengths forged within the context of adversity, rather than less realistic, problem-free models of family health (Walsh, 2003). Many factors have been proposed that contribute to resiliency at an individual, family and community level, and it is now considered by many practitioners and researchers to be a key concept in health service delivery (Luthar, 2006; Walsh, 2003).

Strengths-based approaches to practice focus on what is working well and encourage families in crisis to identify their strengths and how they have previously overcome challenges (Geggie, Weston, Hayes, & Siberberg, 2007). Recent research has helped by studying "successful" families and individuals, so as to isolate the key characteristics of strong relationships and use these to inform service delivery (for example, Babington, 2006; Silberberg, 2001). This strengths-based approach, however, mainly operates in a service environment where people are accessing help for difficulties they are already experiencing. While this approach has obvious merit, the "missing link" is encouraging people to access support and help prior to problems occurring, in a preventative effort to increase strengths and offset future difficulties.

This paper examines challenges and strategies associated with encouraging individuals to engage in prevention and early-intervention activities focusing on healthy relationships. In order to achieve this, we need a sense of what constitutes family and couple relationship wellbeing so as to have a set of key positive relationship characteristics to aim for in service delivery. This is addressed in the first section of this paper. We then examine what limits an individual's willingness to seek help to strengthen his or her relationships. Finally, we look at policy and practice issues and examples that address, or aim to address, the above.

Authors and Acknowledgements

Elly Robinson is Manager of the Australian Family Relationships Clearinghouse and Research Fellow at the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Robyn Parker is Senior Research Officer at the Australian Family Relationships Clearinghouse.

The authors would like to thank Brian Babington and Mary Mertin-Ryan for their suggestions and feedback on this paper.

Publication details

AFRC Issues
No. 2
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, February 2008.
13 pp.
ISSN: 
1835-1158

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