What are Family Focused Interventions and why are they important?
In the broadest sense family focused interventions focus on the family as the primary intervention unit. As such ‘family focused interventions’ could be regarded as a modality on a level with ‘individual counselling’ or ‘outreach’. Used in this way, many of the practice elements described under the models included in this toolbox could be provided to families. Indeed Solution Focused Therapy (SFT), Narrative Therapy (NT), and components of CBT-based skills training have been widely used with the family as the primary intervention unit. This is feasible within youth AOD services.

Focusing on the family as the unit of intervention also has implications for the content of practice elements. Family systems theory has strongly influenced the content of interventions that have been developed specifically for family focused practice. In the context of AOD problems, interventions informed by family systems theory focus on changing the interaction patterns between family members that may permit, maintain or encourage problematic behaviours

With this aim in mind, a range of therapeutic content has been developed specifically for use with families. Most of the elements described below are commonly found in family focused treatment programs for youth substance abuse that have been described in the practice literature. These elements are therapeutic in their own right, and they are essential supports and supplements to elements drawn from other models such as SFT, NT and CBT.

In the context of youth AOD services the goals of family focused interventions are to: (a) engage families in the care and support process as far as possible, (b) motivate family members as supporters of their young person, and (c) build the capacity of family members to provide emotional and practical support that assists the young person along a positive developmental pathway. Family members include caregivers who may not be kin, such as foster parents.

When should they be used?
Family focused interventions should be offered to the families of all young people, with the permission of the young person. The 9 elements described below should be employed in a staged manner. The most basic orientation, engagement and information provision should be offered to all families, with the higher level education and skill-based elements reserved for those young people and families assessed as in need.

Within youth AOD services the goals of family focused interventions do not extend to solving most of the family’s problems or correcting entrenched dysfunctional patterns of interaction. Action on these goals is the domain of specialist family therapy.

There are times when it is inappropriate to engage families. Practitioners are advised to exercise caution where there is, or has been, abuse or domestic violence. Practitioners should also be mindful that some young people do not consent to the involvement of their families or specified significant others.