’Family clearly remains most people’s first source of support when things go wrong.’ (Park and Roberts, 2002, p203)

For the first time, Circle has a set of practice principles that constitute our ‘whole family approach’. The work to draw these up has taken place in collaboration with Dr Gary Clapton at the University of Edinburgh and Development Manager, Angela Gentile to identify the principles and approaches that best serve to strengthen families to improve children’s wellbeing. Where did we start?

The concept of ‘family’ is changeable and hard to define and this can present challenges for practitioners and policy makers who can tend to focus on roles or needs of either adults, parents/carers, or children and young people. These divides can make matters worse for the families that we work with.

Circle does things differently. Circle works with a family’s ecology in partnership with parents, wider family members and with partners across systems e.g., in the family home, with schools and in the community. We recognise – often for the first time in the family’s experience – the impact of multiple stressors like poverty, unemployment, poor mental and physical health, substance use, poor housing conditions and the impact this has on an individual family member’s self-worth, on the parenting role and all family members’ ability to remain resilient as a family.

Circle’s approach recognises the interdependence of relationships within families and for many years Circle has observed the complex interplay of relationships in families that access our support e.g., young people with caring responsibilities, grandparents who provide kincare, families affected by imprisonment; we explicitly take into account the part that practical ethics in family life play. This is premised upon an ethical desire of family members “to do the right thing” which helps build family cohesion and resilience. This stands counter to policies that have served to problematise families. We also work alongside the fear experienced by families who want to do the right thing, but are scared of their children being removed.

Circle views family members as active participants and we work with each individual at an emotional, intellectual and practical level to improve individual wellbeing and to strengthen the family. We also know that where social capital is built i.e. individuals’ and families’ access to social resources, this will lead to more sustainable improvements in children’s wellbeing. For all these reasons, and to encapsulate what we do and why we do it, we have produced a clear set of principles that we hope will build upon the good practice that we already do and enable us to articulate this to those who use our service and those that support us.

An evaluation of the use of our set of ‘whole family approach’ principles has begun and the results will be available later this year.