Family-Centered Practice and Practice Models

In a nutshell, we consider the following to be the four essential components of family-centered practice in child welfare:

  1. The family unit is the focus of attention.
    Family-centered practice works with the family as a collective unit, insuring the safety and well-being of family members.

  2. Strengthening the capacity of families to function effectively is emphasized.
    The primary purpose of family-centered practice is to strengthen the family's potential for carrying out their responsibilities.

  3. Families are engaged in designing all aspects of the policies, services, and program evaluation.
    Family-centered practitioners partner with families to use their expert knowledge throughout the decision- and goal-making processes and provide individualized, culturally-responsive, and relevant services for each family.

  4. Families are linked with more comprehensive, diverse, and community-based networks of supports and services.
    Family-centered interventions assist in mobilizing resources to maximize communication, shared planning, and collaboration among the several community and/or neighborhood systems that are directly involved in the family.

For a longer discussion about these points, you can read "Can We Put Clothes on this Emperor?" in the Summer 2000 issue of Best Practice/Next Practice, the newsletter of our predecessor National Resource Center.

In addition, the Summer 2005 issue of Permanency Planning Today focuses on some of the ways our work reflects family-centered practice as we work with States and Tribes.


  • Core Meanings of the Strengthening Families Protective Factors
    This document from the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) outlines protective factors of strengthening families and their core meanings.  Protective factors discussed include: parental resilience, social connections, knowledge of parenting and child development, concrete support in times of need, and children’s social and emotional competence. 

  • Children’s Bureau Express (CBX): August 2012 Edition
    This edition of the CBX spotlights practice models through the lens of implementation. Practice models vary by State or Tribe and are tailored to reflect the unique approach to child welfare that best serves the jurisdiction’s children, families, and communities. Model implementation also varies in terms of size and scope. CBX examines the readiness, fidelity, evaluation, and sustainability issues in three practice model implementation projects in NH, OK, and WV. This issue of CBX also includes the fourth article in the second Centennial Series, highlighting the work of the Children’s Bureau during World War II. CBX provides news from the Children’s Bureau, Training and Technical Assistance Network updates, child welfare news, strategies and tools for practice, resources, and information on trainings and conferences. (2012)

  • Implementing Practice Models
    This issue of Child Welfare Matters, the newsletter of the National Child Welfare Resource Center for Organizational Improvement (NRCOI), highlights ten key factors to consider in implementation, organized under three implementation drivers – leadership, competency and organization.  It shares lessons learned from four states further along in implementation, and provides links to resources, state documents and opportunities to connect with others offered through the NRCOI’s practice model peer network. (2011)
  • Children’s Bureau Child and Family Services Reviews Practice Principles
    This website provides an overview of the practice principles that the Child and Family Services Reviews, administered by the Children's Bureau, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, are designed to promote. These practice principles, which include family-centered practice, are believed to support improved outcomes for children and families. (Updated May 2007)

  • The Importance of Family Engagement in Child Welfare Services
    This recent Northern California Training Academy publication discusses the importance of family engagement in child welfare services. (2009)

  • Solution Based Casework: Making the Link Fact Sheet
    The Center for the Study of Social Policy’s (CSSP) Strengthening Families (SF) Protective Factors Framework is a research-informed, cost-effective strategy to increase family stability, enhance child development, and reduce child abuse and neglect.  This document is part of the Making the Link fact sheets series from the CSSP, which focuses on alignment of SF with practice models in child welfare systems.  In this fact sheet, the gap is bridged between SF and the Solution Based Casework model.  Solution Based Casework is an evidence-based, family centered model that seeks to help family teams organize, prioritize, and document steps they will take to create safety, improved well-being, and permanency for their children.  The three basic goals of Solution Based Casework are: (1) Develop partnerships with families, providers, and family networks; (2) Focus on pragmatic everyday family tasks; and (3) Promote specific prevention skills needed for families to successfully fulfill these everyday tasks.

  • "What Makes Your Family Strong?"
    The Great Start Collaborative of Michigan's Charlevoix, Emmet, and northern Antrim counties has made the Strengthening Families approach a priority in their communities. Over the last year, the Protective Factors Framework has been applied in all of the events and projects of the collaborative and parent coalition.  The Collaborative has created a media campaign entitled, "What Makes Your Family Strong?" This website of the campaign contains resources including seven posters, a protective factors guide, and a new website in an effort to localize the messaging of the Strengthening Families Framework.  The Strengthening Families Protective Factors Framework aims to develop and enhance the following five protective factors: (1) parental resilience; (2) social connections; (3) knowledge of parenting and child development; (4) concrete support in times of need; and (5) social and emotional competence of children. 


  • Guide for Developing and Implementing Child Welfare Practice Models
    The National Child Welfare Resource Center for Organizational Improvement (NRCOI) has developed this resource, which offers an overall framework for developing, implementing, and/or strengthening a child welfare practice model; cites specific examples from the field; and provides additional information to help child welfare agencies and their partners make informed choices in selecting their approaches to this important work. It provides guidance on developing a practice model, and details steps to take through each stage of implementation, including a discussion of fourteen specific implementation drivers. The Guide includes worksheets to help agencies articulate practice model principles, identify frontline practice skills, and assess readiness, and lists resources for ongoing support.
  • Adopting a Child Welfare Practice Framework
    Many jurisdictions are beginning to create frameworks or models that describe the values and principles underlying their work with children and families, as well as specific approaches and techniques they consider basic to achieving desired outcomes. The Child Welfare Policy & Practice Group has prepared this paper to help child welfare professionals in leadership positions interested in grounding and reshaping frontline practice in such a model of practice.

  • An Introduction to the Practice Model Framework: A Working Document Series
    The National Child Welfare Resource Center for Organizational Improvement, in collaboration with the National Child Welfare Resource Center for Family Centered Practice and Permanency Planning, is in the process of developing a framework to help child welfare agencies and Tribal social service programs develop and implement a comprehensive, written, and articulated practice model. The Practice Model Framework series will focus on the approach to practice that the Children's Bureau promotes -- child welfare practice that is child-focused, family-centered, individualized to meet specific needs of the children and families served, enhanced to strengthen parental capacity, community-based, culturally responsive, outcome oriented, and collaborative. This working document is intended to let you know what we have learned thus far, provide you with information on the plan for and direction of the project, and spark discussion and feedback on this topic.

Resources and Guides from the States

  • Alabama's systems reform stemmed from the RC vs Walley settlement agreement, which ended in 2007. Each county developed a system of care founded on four principles:
    1. Children should live with their families when they can do so safely;
    2. Comprehensive services should be provided to children and their families;
    3. Regular family planning meetings with the family and individualized community support teams should be held with the focus on reunification, relative placement or adoption; and
    4. Reports of child abuse and neglect should be investigated in a timely manner.
    The process of converting to this system of care implementation is described in this article by Page Walley, Commissioner of DHR.

  • Arizona:
    Strengthening Families: A Blueprint for Realigning Arizona's Child Welfare System
    Describes agency goals and objectives for child protection and family strengthening reform, and strategies for achieving them. Arizona Department of Economic Security, Division of Children Youth and Families (2005).

  • District of Columbia:
    The Practice Model
    can be found as Appendix A in the District's 2007 Needs Assessment Report.
    This model, the agency's foundation for effective child welfare practice, describes goals, core principles and values, leadership principles for supervisors and managers, and a practice protocol for social workers.

  • Florida:
    Family-Centered Practice in Three Florida Innovation Sites: Evaluation Brief – Years 1 and 2 (2010-2011)
    Serving Florida’s families in a way that is “family centered” improves efforts to ensure positive outcomes for children. Florida’s level of interest in and commitment to Family Centered Practice (FCP) gained momentum after the federal Child and Family Services Review in 2008. Florida’s 2009 Quality Improvement Plan presented goals and strategies for addressing the findings and recommendations of the CFSR. The implementation of FCP was one of five goals, with the participation of several innovation sites presented as a key strategy. Evaluating Florida’s progress in reaching this goal was recommended. This Brief documents two phases of the evaluation of FCP in three Innovation Sites. Casey Family Programs sponsored the Family Centered Practice Innovation Site Evaluation as a collaborative effort with the Florida Department of Children and Families, DCF Circuit 1, DCF Circuit 3/8 and DCF Circuit 11. (March 2012)

Also see the companion brief which provides an overview of the findings. (February 2012)

  • Iowa:
    Child Welfare Model of Practice
    Iowa Department of Human Services' child welfare model of practice is intended to define who they serve and the intended outcomes of child welfare services, as well as the guiding principles for their work and expectations related to practice and program and organizational capacity. This statement of practice was developed to define, affirm, guide, reinforce and support DHS’s strength-based and family-centered model of practice at all levels. It is intended to guide practice in individual cases and at the program and organizational level, and can be used as a basis of comparison in measuring or judging capacity, quantity, and quality.

  • Massachusetts:
    Strategic Plan for Strengthening the DCF Safety Net
    This PowerPoint presentation presents the department’s strategic plan on how to strengthen local delivery of services in order to support efforts to more effectively strengthen families, and to align policies, practices and resources to ensure our greatest effectiveness. Department of Children and Families (2008).

  • Michigan
    Michigan Department of Human Services Child Welfare Philosophy

    This philosophy serves as a guide for all DHS child welfare policy contracing and payment approaches, inclusive of protective services, foster care, adoption, and juvenile justice.

  • Mississippi:
    Supervisor's Guide to Implementing Family Centered Practice

    Mississippi Division of Children and Family Services is embarking on the development of a Family Centered Practice framework that will guide the creation of standards of practice, supervisory activities and the day to day interaction between families, social workers and the community of caregivers and providers. This guidebook was developed to support supervisors in the process of developing and supporting staff to be family centered in their work. It should serve as a support to helping workers integrate family centered practice in all aspects of assessment, service planning and service delivery.

  • Missouri:
    The six guiding principles for the Children's Division, as explained in the 2006 Annual Program Improvement Plan Report, are:
    • Partnership
    • Practice
    • Prevention
    • Protection
    • Permanency
    • Professionalism

  • Nebraska:
    Family Centered Practice
    This two-page fact sheet lists the core set of values, beliefs, and principles guiding the work of Nebraska Health and Human Services. Nebraska Health and Human Services (2005).

  • New Jersey:
    Implementing the DCF Case Practice Model

    The Department of Children and Families’ (DCF) case practice model is intended to define who the agency serves, the expected outcomes of these services, and the guiding principles and expectations of the organization. This plan to implement the case practice model resulted from an extensive process of consultation within DCF and among key stakeholders.

  • New York:
    New York City's Child Welfare Community's Commitment to Quality Practice
    A model of practice principles for New York City which represents a commitment to keeping the children of the city safe.

  • North Carolina:
    The Multiple Response System
    (MRS) is North Carolina's systems reform effort, begun as a pilot in ten counties in 2002 and now implemented statewide. There are many documents and resources at the above site, including this chart that shows the application of the six Family-Centered Principles of Partnership through the seven strategic components of MRS, and a more in-depth introduction to the seven key strategies

  • Rhode Island:
    Family-Centered Practice: How Are We Doing?
    A tool for families, providers, schools, and communities to evaluate and improve how individuals and organizations in Rhode Island support families. The Rhode Island Coalition for Family Support and Involvement.

  • Tennessee:
    Standards of Professional Practice for Serving Children and Families: A Model of Practice

    The practice model contains DCS's guiding principles and standards of professional practice. The principles provide the framework from which the standards of professional practice for serving children and families are developed. Each standard includes additional information in the form of commentary.

  • Utah:
    Practice Model

    Quality outcomes are most often realized when children and families are engaged with a service organization offering an array of services by qualified and committed staff. It is the aim of our Practice Model to create such an environment - staffed by the best child welfare professionals in the nation.

  • Washington:
    Family-Centered Practice Model

    The Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS) created this document to describe their family-centered approach to child welfare services, and the intended benefits and outcomes of these services. Family-centered child welfare practices tailor services to individual families, and respect each child's right to basic safety as well as each child's need for a permanent family. Family-centered practices demonstrate their beliefs about how to be most effective with people in the helping process, and allow greater respect for differences in family styles, cultures and communities.

  • Wisconsin:
    A Vision and Plan for Improving Child Well Being and Strengthening Families in Wisconsin Using Service Integration as the Path
    The document describes the importance of family empowerment and service integration as demonstrated in the El Paso County, Colorado, child welfare model, with suggestions for implementation in Milwaukee County. Prepared by Linda Hall and John Grace, Wisconsin Association of Family and Children's Agencies & The Milwaukee Child Welfare Philanthropy Group (2003).

  • Wyoming:
    Family-Centered Practices
    The Summer 2005 issue of Residential Group Quarterly by the Child Welfare League of America includes “Family-Centered Practices” by Rodger McDaniel and Brenden McKinney. (See p. 7). The article discusses the family services approach used by the Wyoming Department of Family Services.

Trainings and Training Curricula

  • Introduction to Family-Centered Practice
    During 2009-2010, the National Resource Center for Permanency and Family Connections partnered with Building Professional Social Work in Developing Countries to develop a Child Protection curriculum for social work faculty in Indonesia under a contract with Save the Children. The NRCPFC has modified the introductory curriculum into four modules for use in U.S. child welfare organizations and universities. Information from the modules can be incorporated into child welfare organizations’ pre-service training or used in a child welfare policy/practice course by BSW or MSW Programs.  NRCPFC is hopeful that colleagues in the U.S. will find this guide to be a useful product with students and with Local, State and Tribal child welfare workers currently in the field. The guide can be utilized in whole as it is written and taught in sequence or it can be used in part as modules or tools for training at the new worker or intermediate levels.

NRCPFC Information Packets

PowerPoint Presentations


  • Family-Centered Practice
    This section of the Child Welfare Information Gateway focuses on resources to support and preserve families through a respectful, strengths-based approach that views the family as central to the child's well-being. It includes information on specific family-centered practice approaches, such as family group decision-making. It also includes resources on cultural competence, casework practice, and providing and evaluating family-centered services.

  • Engaging Families
    This special section of the Child Welfare Information Gateway website provides information on many ways that service providers and the child welfare system can promote family engagement.

Last updated 1/30/14