Resources to support whole family working

There are a handful of excellent resources to help build in best practice in working with and responding to the needs of the whole family.

Here, we have highlighted four of the most useful:

  • The Whole Family Pathway
  • Think Family Toolkit
  • Young Carers Memorandum of Understanding
  • At a glance 9: Think child, think parent, think family

The Whole Family Pathway

A useful guide for families and agencies, the Whole Family Pathway was created by the Include project.

The toolkit’s goal is to ensure that young carers and their families see what choices, responsibilities and lines of accountability for services may be available for them.

Think Family Toolkit 

The Think Family Toolkit, created by the Department for Education (DfE), helps you incorporate policy when working with whole families. The toolkit can also help ensure you effectively assess and respond to families’ needs.

According to the DfE, ‘Think Family means securing better outcomes for children, young people and families with additional needs by co-ordinating the support they receive from children’s, young people’s, adults’ and family services’.

In the practice’s introduction, the DfE describes Think Family as ‘reforming systems and services provided for vulnerable children, young people and adults to secure better outcomes for children, by co-ordinating the support they receive from children’s, adults’ and family services so that they can:

  • Identify families at risk of poor outcomes to provide support at the earliest opportunity.
  • Meet the full range of needs within each family they are supporting or working with.
  • Develop services which can respond effectively to the most challenging families.
  • Strengthen the ability of family members to provide care and support to each other.’

Young Carers Memorandum of Understanding 

You can use this tool to provide model text for a memorandum of understanding between statutory directors. The text, intended for local authorities, was created by the Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS) and the Associate Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS)

ADCS explains that the aim of the document is ‘to offer a firm basis for working together and working in partnership with health and third sector partners. The final local text may be varied to reflect local circumstances. Additional areas may be included where this is considered appropriate’.

The document, Working Together to Support Young Carers - A Model Local Memorandum of Understanding between Statutory Directors for Children’s Services and Adult Social Services, is available from ADCS.


Social workers need to understand that all families are different and that it is important to consider ALL the family members and their needs, not just ‘one member’. Please also understand that family and individual circumstances change – the person cared for may not know how they will feel from day to day, or week to week and this affects the level of support we need. Services need to be flexible.

- Young carer

At a glance 9: Think child, think parent, think family

One of the most useful resources in whole family approach is At a glance 9: Think child, think parent, think family.

Published in July 2009 by the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE), this resource helps professionals take a whole family approach in designing services and in assessing and responding to parental mental health difficulties. Here are some helpful sections. 

  • What families tell us
    Families want good quality, practical support in looking after their children and freedom from the fear of losing parental responsibility. Children and young people say they want relevant information about their parent´s illness, someone to talk to about their experiences and a chance to make and see friends.
  • Developing services 
    SCIE´s new guide helps develop services that:
    • offer an open door into a system of joined-up support at every point of entry
    • look at the whole family and co-ordinate care
    • provide support that is tailored to need
    • build on family strengths.
  • Signs of a successful service
    Based on the findings from this review, a successful service for families with a parent with a mental health problem will:
    • promote resilience and the wellbeing of all family members, now and in the future
    • offer appropriate support to avoid crises and will manage them well if they arise
    • secure child safety.

A high-quality service that incorporates a ‘think child, think parent, think family’ approach will:

  • respect an individual´s wishes and recognise their role and responsibilities in a family
  • incorporate a resilience-led perspective building on a family´s strengths
  • intervene early to avoid crises, stop them soon after they start and continue to provide support once the crisis has been resolved
  • be built upon a thorough understanding of the developmental needs of children, the factors that impact parenting capacity, the impact of parental mental health problems on children, and the impact of parenting on a parent´s mental health
  • address the potential impact of parental mental health problems on children over time and across generations
  • support the empowerment of people who use services through sharing information and knowledge and ensure their involvement in all stages of the planning and delivery of their care
  • respect the right of the child to maintain direct contact with both parents, except if this is contrary to the child´s best interests.
  • Key messages are:
    • Think child, think parent, think family in order to develop new solutions to improve outcomes for parents with mental health problems and their families.
    • Take a multi-agency approach, with senior level commitment to implement a think family strategy.
    • Review whether criteria for access to adult mental health and to children´s services take into account the individual and combined needs of children, parents and carers.
    • Ensure screening systems in adult mental health and children´s services routinely and reliably identify and record information about adults with mental health problems who are also parents.
    • Listen to parents and children – most want support that is flexible, based on a relationship with a key worker and takes account of their practical priorities.
    • Build resilience and manage risk – ensure ready access to specialist mental health and children´s safeguarding services when needed and that staff know who makes what decision in what circumstances.
    • Be creative – consider allocating an individual budget to provide flexibility and tackle stigma by developing non-traditional ways of providing services.
    • Increase every family member´s understanding of a parent´s mental health problem – this can strengthen their ability to cope.


Assessment processes need to take account of the whole family and their individual and collective needs.

- From SCIE’s At a Glance 9: Think child, think parent, think family

See video

The Children's Society © 2011.  All rights reserved.  Charity Registration No. 221124