Understanding and supporting families with complex needs

This international research exchange programme seeks to address a recognised deficit in family focused research by developing links between divergent disciplines and knowledge streams, both nationally and internationally.  The project seeks to enhance understandings of family-focused approaches in domains of social care, education, and health through a series of case studies.

Funders:  European Commission Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), Marie Curie Actions, International Research Staff Exchange Scheme

Ana Paola Machinandiarena from the University of Cordoba, talks about her experiences of the EU Exchange Scheme in the following film.

Participant Universities

Project outline

This FP7-funded international research staff exchange scheme seeks to address a deficit in family focused research by developing links between divergent disciplines and knowledge streams, both nationally and internationally.  The project seeks to enhance understandings of family-focused approaches in and across the domains of social care, education and health.  In order to do so, three strands of activity are proposed.

Theorising families within family support

Family forms are many and varied, reflecting a myriad of understandings and influencing factors.  Despite this complexity and perpetual change, the importance of family for the experience of both interdependence and individual support and well being remains.  For family-focused services to deliver effectively, the complexity of family roles, functions and compositions therefore need to be examined and understood.  The project will therefore consider how 'families with complex needs' form and experience contemporary life, and how such understandings might inform policy and practice responses.  We will compare the theorisation of families in the context of service provision and policy, examining how the notion of 'complex needs' is constructed and considered within participating countries, and which families or family forms subsequently became a 'public concern'.

Models and approaches in family-focused policy and practice

There is evidence that existing service provision finds 'thinking family' both challenging and controversial, and that this has implications for professional knowledge and frameworks.  The project will therefore explore the models and approaches to family-based service provision evident internationally.  The comparative strengths and challenges of various models and approaches will be considered, drawing on evaluation and research evidence as to the effectiveness of such approaches; in particular, 'whole family approaches' will be compared to other forms of provision.

Researching family-focused policy and practice

Our third strand seeks to explore the challenges associated with researching family-focused policy and practice.  Whilst there is evidence of localised developments in research practices there is limited evidence of international learning in this area.  Through the sharing of approaches and expertise from various partner universities, we will consider family-centred evaluation methodologies able to provide: indicators and measures that effectively capture outcomes for individuals and whole families; research tools through which to capture the lived experiences of families; strategies to engage in research families with complex and challenging lives; and the means to explore the extent to which services/professionals are working together in meeting the needs of a family.

There will be two phases to the exchange, each contributing to all three of the above strands.

Phase One

The first phase of work will involve secondary analysis of existing research in each country, so as to bring together the existing knowledge of each partner for a process of collaborative theory building and existing analysis of previous research.  A series of evidence reviews will be published on this website in the summer of 2011.

Phase Two

The second phase of activity will involve a series of targeted collaborative research projects examining services, programmes or initiatives selected so as to represent specific theories, models and approaches to family-focused provision.  This series of case studies will allow the partnership to arrive at both extended understandings and comparative cross country analysis of different approaches to the same service user group.  The case studies will be carried out during three-month researcher exchange visits.

series of final project reports will be produced drawing on all aspects of the research programme.  This report will be made available online, with summaries available in the primary languages of all participant countries.

Further information

Dr Nathan Hughes
School of Social Policy
Institute of Applied Social Studies
University of Birmingham

Email: n.j.hughes@bham.ac.uk