As reported on http://cecp.air.org/wraparound/famstren.html the success of efforts to help families in crisis depends on the ability to match intervention plans with families’ strengths and preferences. […]

We have spent the last few years traveling around the United States and Canada, teaching the wraparound process and how to use family strengths, preferences, and cultures to develop truly individualized plans of care. The good news is that virtually every institution with which we work—juvenile justice, education, child welfare, mental health, and public health—has a section of their plan of care that acknowledges child and family strengths. The bad news is that it appears the plans are still based largely on the child’s and family’s deficits and that the attempts to discover their strengths are separate from the plan, rather than forming the framework of the intervention (Duchnowski & Kutash, 1996).

This article includes instructional materials and a self-paced test to expose the reader to discovering strengths and to teach strengths-based planning. The case study used as a basis for the test is a composite built from our experiences with individual families who received the best practice available from the wraparound process.

Performing Strengths Discoveries
The wraparound process is based on a philosophy in which services are highly individualized to meet the needs of children and families (Burchard & Clarke, 1990; VanDenBerg & Grealish, 1996). In the wraparound process, a “facilitator” (a case manager, lead teacher, etc.) works with the family to discover their strengths, set goals, determine major needs, and develop strengths-based options.

Any assessment based solely on deficits and problems lacks balance (Kutash & Rivera, 1996). Although a family may seem to an outsider to be in complete chaos, there almost always is good news as well. It is important to remember that people live in the context of their own histories, which contain both positive and negative information. One member of a family does not determine the character of the rest of the family. One period of time in a person’s life does not necessarily predict that person’s entire future. A diagnosis of mental illness, a negative social history, a relapse, or an incident of criminal behavior cannot possibly describe a person fully enough to know what might be helpful in remediating the situation.

The primary skill for the wraparound facilitator in a strengths discovery is the ability to have a conversation with another person. A strengths discovery is not done as a formal assessment. It is an interactive “chat” between a facilitator and a family or family member. In this chat, as in any conversation between two people, both parties share stories, laugh, and generally begin developing a relationship of trust and respect. The strengths discovery chat begins to break down the traditional “one up, one down” status of professional to client. The chat should be natural, informal, and reciprocal.

It often is difficult to get children and parents to talk about their strengths. Some people are raised to view talking about strengths as bragging. In addition, some family members may be so focused on the negative information that they find it difficult to address strengths. Thus it may be necessary to let a person talk about their concerns and fears before they will talk about their strengths. However, it is important to be persistent and thorough about moving as quickly as possible into a discussion of the good news.

It makes sense to start a strengths discovery by letting people know that you are trying something different and that it may feel a bit uncomfortable at first. It may be helpful to model the sharing of this type of information by discussing some similar details from your own experience.

The test, respondents’ answers and more information are available on http://cecp.air.org/wraparound/famstren.html

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