Understanding contemporary Family Support: Reflections on theoretical and conceptual frameworks


  • David Herrera-Pastor Faculty of Education & Sport, University of Granada
  • Nick Frost School of Health and Community Studies, Leeds Beckett University
  • Carmel Devaney UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre, School of Political Science and Sociology, National University of Ireland, Galway




Family Support is a transdisciplinary field made up of practices and knowledge from different areas, theories and approaches. This article strives to contribute to the development of this  complex epistemological foundation by undertaking a review of the main theoretical frameworks. The relationship between the practice and theory of Family Support is analysed in the paper. A review of the ‘state of the art’ is undertaken, exploring both the role of wide-ranging social theory, and more specific psycho-social theories. Practical examples are provided to ground the analysis. Finally, the article proposes an integrated model proposed providing a critical and versatile approach to understanding different realities. Cross-national joint construction is encouraged to advance Family Support as both a theory and to provide a framework which guides both practice and policy.

Author Biographies

David Herrera-Pastor, Faculty of Education & Sport, University of Granada

Senior Researcher

Nick Frost, School of Health and Community Studies, Leeds Beckett University



Aarthun, A. and Akerjordet, K. (2014) Parent participation in decision-making in health-care services for children: an integrative review’, Journal of Nursing Management, 22(2), 177-191

Alderfer, C.P. (1972) Existence, relatedness, and growth: Human needs in organizational settings. New York: Free Press

Allen, G. (2011) Early Intervention: The Next Steps. London: The Stationery Office

Alonso, H., Ruiz, P., Sánchez, J. and Oficialdegui, R. (2014) Exclusión social, medio abierto e incorporación social en la Asociación Bizitegi: un modelo de intervención socioeducativa en programas de reinserción social desde la Pedagogía Social Comunitaria [Social exclusion, open environment and social incorporation in the Bizitegi Association: a model of socio-educational intervention in social reinsertion programmes from the Community Social Pedagogy], Educación Social. Revista de Intervención Socioeducativa, 57, 48-66

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979) The ecology of human development: experiments by nature and design. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press

Broadhurst, K., and Holt, K. (2010) Partnership and the Limits of Procedure: Prospects for Relationships between Parents and Professionals under the New Public Law Outline, Child & Family Social Work, 15.1, 97-106

Bywaters, P. (2013) Inequalities in child welfare: Towards a new policy, research and action agenda, British Journal of Social Work, 45(1), 6-23

Bywaters, P., Brady, G., Sparks, T. and Bos, E. (2016) Child welfare inequalities: new evidence, further questions, Child and Family Social Work, 21, 369–380

Canavan, J., Pinkerton, J., and Dolan, P. (2016) Understanding Family Support: policy, practice and theory. London: Jessica Kingsley

Canavan, J., Devaney, C., McGregor, C., and Shaw, A. (2019) A good fit? Ireland’s programme for Prevention, Partnership and Family Support as a public health approach to children protection. in Lonne, B.,Scott, D., Higgins, D. and Herrenkohl, T. (eds.) Re‐visioning public health approaches for protecting children. New York: Springer Publishers (pp. 397-413). https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-05858-6_23

Cancian, M., Yang.,Mi-Youn, and Slack, K. S (2013) The Effect of Additional Child Support Income on the Risk of Child Maltreatment, Social Service Review 87:3, 417-437

Cameron, G., DeGeer, I., Hazineh, L., Frensch, K., Smit Quosai, T. and Freymond, N., (2013) The impacts of accessible service delivery on front-line helping relationships in child welfare, Child & Family Social Work, 18(3), 253-263

Castillo, J.T. and Fenzl-Crossman, A., (2010) The relationship between non-marital fathers’ social networks and social capital and father involvement, Child & Family Social Work, 15(1), 66-76

Cyrulnik, B. (2001) La maravilla del dolor: El sentido de la resiliencia [The wonder of pain: The sense of resilience]. Barcelona: Gránica

Deković, M., Slagt, M.I., Asscher, J.J., Boendermaker, L., Eichelsheim, V.I. and Prinzie, P. (2011) Effects of early prevention programs on adult criminal offending: A meta-analysis, Clinical psychology review, 31(4), 532-544

Devaney, C. (2017) Promoting children’s welfare through Family Support. in N. Frost and P. Dolan (eds) A Global Reader in Child Welfare. London: Routledge (pp. 99-109)

Devaney, C., & McGregor, C. (2017) Child protection and family support practice in Ireland: A contribution to present debates from a historical perspective, Child and Family Social Work, 22( 3), 1– 9. https://doi.org/10.1111/cfs.12342

Devaney, C. and Dolan, P. (2017) Voice and meaning: the wisdom of Family Support veterans, Child & Family Social Work, 22, 10-20

Devaney, J. (2008) Chronic Child Abuse and Domestic Violence: Children and Families with Long-term and Complex Needs, Child & Family Social Work. 13.4, 443-53

European Family Support Network (2020). European Family Support Network foundation document, c

Daly, M., Bruckhauf, Z., Byrne, J., Pecnik, N., Samms-Vaughan, M., Bray, R. and Margaria, A. (2015) Family and parenting support: Policy and provision in a global context. Florence: UNICEF

Dolan, P., Zegarac, N. AND Arsić, J. (2020) Family support as a right of the child. Social Work & Social Sciences Review, 17, 2, 8-26

Dominguez, S. and Watkins, C. (2003) Creating networks for survival and mobility: Social capital among African-American and Latin-American low-income mothers, Social problems, 50(1), 111-135

Dunst, C.J. (2000) Revisiting ‘Rethinking Early Intervention’, Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 20(2), pp.95–104. doi: 10.1177/027112140002000205

Easton, C., Gee, G., Durbin, B. and Teeman, D. (2011) Early intervention, using the CAF process, and its cost effectiveness. Findings from LARC 3. Slough: NFER

Elliott, M. and Scourfield, J. (2017) Identifying and Understanding Inequalities in Child Welfare Intervention Rates: Comparative studies in four UK countries. Oxford: The Nuffield Foundation

Featherstone, B., White, S., and Morris, K. (2014) Re-inventing Child Protection. Bristol: Policy Press

Firmin, C., Warrington, C and Pearce, J. (2016) Sexual Exploitation and Its Impact on Developing Sexualities and Sexual Relationships: The Need for Contextual Social Work Interventions, British Journal of Social Work, 46, 2318–2337

Freire, P. (1968) Pedagogía del oprimido [Pedagogy of the oppressed]. Madrid: Siglo veintiuno de España editores

Frost, N., Abbott, S. and Race, T. (2015) Family Support: prevention, early intervention and early help. Cambridge: Polity

Frost, N. and Dolan, P. (2012) The theoretical foundations of family support. in Davies, M. (ed.) Social work with children and families. Palgrave MacMillan: Basingstoke (pp. 40-52)

Frost, N., Abram, F. and Burgess, H. (2013a) Family Group Conferences: evidence, outcomes and future research, Child and Family Social Work, doi 10.1111/cfs 12047

Frost, N., Abram, F. and Burgess, H. (2013b) Family Group Conferences: context, process and way forward, Child and Family Social Work, doi 10.1111/cfs 12049

Geens, N. and Vandenbroeck, M. (2014) The (ab) sense of a concept of social support in parenting research: a social work perspective, Child & Family Social Work, 19(4), 491-500

Giroux, H. (2001) Culture, educational policy and practice. Barcelona: Graó

Hardiker, P., Exton, K. and Barker, M. (1991) Policies and Practices in Preventive Child Care. Gower: Aldershot

Harvey, B. (2014) The Case for prevention and early intervention. Promoting Positive Outcomes for Children, Families and Communities. Dublin: Prevention and Early Intervention Network

Herrera, D., Soler, C., and Mancila, I. (2019) Interculturalidad crítica, teoría sociolingüística e igualdad de oportunidades. La extraordinaria historia de un menor infractor [Critical interculturality, sociolinguistic theory and equal opportunities. The extraordinary story of a young offender], Tendencias Pedagógicas, 33, 69-82. doi:10.15366/tp2018.32.006

Herrera, D., & De-Oña, J.M. (2016) La importancia del ambiente de aprendizaje [The importance of the learning environment. Ecological education in a detention centre]. Revista Fuentes, 18 (1), 77-90. doi:10.12795/revistafuentes.2016.18.1.05

Fraser, N. and Honneth, A. (2003) Redistribution or recognition?: a political-philosophical exchange. London: Verso

Howard, K. and Brooks-Gunn, J. (2009) The Role of Home-Visiting Programs in Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect, Future of Children, 19 (2), 119-46

Howe, D., Brandon, M., Hining, D. and Schofield, G. (1999) Attachment Theory, Child Maltreatment and Family Support: a practice and assessment model. London: Macmillan

Jordan, L. (2012) The legal foundations of family support work. in Davies, M. (ed.) Social Work with Children & Families. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan (pp. 26-39)

Katz, I., La Placa, V. and Hunter, S. (2007) Barriers to inclusion and successful engagement of parents in mainstream services. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Konstantoni, K., Kustatscher, M., and Emejulu, A. (2017) Travelling with intersectionality across time, place and space. Children’s Geographies, 15, 1–5

López Sánchez, F. (2008) Necesidades en la infancia y en la adolescencia. Respuesta familiar, escolar y social [Needs in childhood and adolescence. Family, school and social response]. Madrid: Pirámide

Mason, C. (2012) Social work the ‘art of relationship’: parents’ perspectives on an intensive family support project, Child & Family Social Work, 17(3), 368-377

Masten, A.S. (2001) Ordinary Magic: Resilience Processes in Development, American Psychologist, 56(3), 227-38

Maslow, A. (1975) Motivación y personalidad [Motivation and personality]. Barcelona: Sagitario

Manciaux, M. (2005) La resiliencia: resistirse y rehacerse [Resilience: resisting and rebuilding]. Barcelona: Gedisa

McGregor, C. and Devaney, C. (2019) Protective Support and Supportive Protection for Families ‘in the Middle’: Learning from the Irish Context, Child & Family Social Work, vol. 25 (2), 277-285. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/cfs.12683

Morín, E. (2011) La vía para el futuro de la humanidad [The way for the future of humanity]. Barcelona: Paidós

Pinkerton, J., and Katz, I. (2003) Perspective through international comparison in the evaluation of Family Support. in I. Katz and J. Pinkerton (Eds.) Evaluating Family Support: Thinking Internationally, Thinking Critically. London: Wiley

Raspa, M., Bailey, D.B., Olmsted, M.G., Nelson, R., Robinson, N., Simpson, M.E. Houts, R. (2010) Measuring Family Outcomes in Early Intervention: Findings from a Large-Scale Assessment, Exceptional Children, 76(4), 496–510. https://doi.org/10.1177/001440291007600407

Rodrigo, M.J., Máiquez, M.L., Martín, J.C. and Rodríguez, B. (2015) La parentalidad positiva desde la prevención y la promoción [Positive parenting from prevention and promotion]. in Rodrigo, M.J. (ed.), Manual práctico de parentalidad positiva [Practical Manual of Positive Parentality]. Madrid: Síntesis (pp. 25-43)

Roubinov, D.S. and Boyce, W.T. (2017) Parenting and SES: Relative values or enduring principles? Current Opinion in Psychology, 15, 162–167

Ruch, G. (2009) Identifying ‘he critical’ in a relationship-based model of reflection, EuropeanJournal of Social Work, 12(3), 349-362

Sarramona, J. (2008) Teoría de la Educación. Reflexión y normativa pedagógica [Theory of Education. Reflection and pedagogical regulations]. Barcelona: Ariel

Shannon, M. (2019) Family Support for Social Care Practitioners. London: Red Globe Press

Slettebo, T. (2013) Partnership with Parents of Children in Care: A Study of Collective User Participation in Child Protection Services, British Journal of Social Work, 43(3), 579-595

Smith, M. and Davis, J.M. (2010) Construction of Family Support: Lessons from the Field, Administration, 58 (2), 69-82

Spratt, T. and Callan, J, (2004) Parents’ views on social work interventions in child welfare cases, British Journal of Social Work, 34(2), 199-224

Stevenson, O. (2009) www.olivestevenson.com [Accessed 29th October 2019]

Think Family (2008) Think Family: Improving the life chances of families at risk. London: HMSO

von Bertalanffy, L. (1976) Teoría General de los Sistemas [General Systems Theory]. Madrid: Fondo de Cultura Económica de España

Williams, N. (2010) Establishing the boundaries and building bridges. A literature review on ecological theory: implications for research into the refugee parenting experience, Journal of Child Health Care, Vol 14(1), 35–51. DOI: 10.1177/1367493509347116




How to Cite

Herrera-Pastor, D., Frost, N., & Devaney, C. (2020). Understanding contemporary Family Support: Reflections on theoretical and conceptual frameworks. Social Work and Social Sciences Review, 21(2), 27-45. https://doi.org/10.1921/swssr.v21i2.1420