Families come in a diverse array of shapes, sizes, configurations and capabilities. In this module, the term ‘family’ is inclusive of a diversity of persons, mostly outside of formal practitioner roles, who actually or potentially play a parenting, caring or nurturing role for a young person.

In most cases, ‘family’ means biological parents, siblings and other relatives who have an interest in the young person. When biological parents are not fully available or able to engage with a youth AOD service in support of their child, it is possible that an older sibling or other relative such as a grandparent, aunt or uncle may have some time and resources available to provide assistance.

Some adolescents with AOD problems are completely disengaged from their biological parents and next of kin, and may be in the care of child protection authorities. For young people in foster care, both kinship and non-kinship foster parents may be considered as family members. Instability and turnover in foster placements is a known risk factor for substance use, offending and mental health problems for young people in out-of-home-care, while parenting practices such as maintaining a positive supportive relationship and monitoring the young person’s activities are protective (Cheng & Lo, 2011; Grogan-Kaylor, Ruffolo, Ortega, & Clarke, 2008; Guibord, Bell, Romano, & Rouillard, 2011; Leslie et al., 2010). Hence working with foster parents to help build positive parenting skills is an integral form of family work in the context of youth AOD services. Alternatively or additionally, a young person in foster care may also seek support to work on issues in their relationship with a biological parent, grandparent or other relative.

Young people living in residential care generally have fewer individuals around them who are actively playing a traditional parenting role. In some cases a particular residential care worker may be able to provide more or different kinds of ‘parent-like’ support for a young person.

If neither biological family members nor statutory carers are available, or even if they are, the potential contribution of other significant adults should also be considered. Social systems such as schools, alternative education organisations, sports clubs and other social institutions are also vitally important to build a viable network of supports around adolescents.