Suncana Kusturin
Antun Ilijaš
Krešo Makvic

Welfare Centre Zagreb
Office Pešcenica


Work with the Family – the Alternative to Institutionalisation




Family, with all its content and its roles, can be described as a basic human union in which life begins and ends. Children who we often consider as our biggest treasure and gift have the right to the care and protection not only of the adult family members but of the whole community as well. From the time of the child’s birth, the family is the one who has direct, intensive, positive and negative influences on the child’s development as a person (especially in childhood and adolescence). Introducing a child to culture, values and norms of society begins in one’s family. So therefore, for the harmonious and complete development of a child’s personality and self-respect, its learning of all necessary life skills and appropriate behaviour, the natural, happy, loving and understanding family environment is vital.

The general declaration of human rights from the United Nations (1948) says: Family is the natural and basic unit of society and has the right to protection of the society and the state.” The UN’s World top level meeting, held in 1990, was dedicated to children and its conclusion was: “It is necessary to do all that is in our power to prevent separation of children from their families”

Many international conventions and declarations as well as laws of many countries are aimed at helping families fulfil their fundamental role with quality and in a substantial way. Although protection and help are the priorities of the existing legislation, some laws give possibilities of using repressive measures in times when family or their members are failing in meeting their obligations or if their behaviour breaks society’s norms, customs or laws.

Croatian laws dealing with these problems are Family laws, Welfare laws, Criminal laws and Juvenile’s courts laws. In these laws we can see the difference between regulations that refer to juveniles and those which refer to parents or adults.

In this paper we will primarily focus on the legislation institutions and handling of children whose asocial and unacceptable behaviour causes society’s reaction.

When a child (a person up to 14 years of age) or a juvenile (in Croatia, that is a person from 14 to 18 years of age) starts behaving in a inappropriate or delinquent manner, society, in order to protect itself as well as the child (juvenile), reacts according to legal regulations.

There are many institutions that prescribe, enforce or supervise measures that are passed towards this population and have different areas of work and goals.
By definition, an institution is: “(an) Establishment that enforces socially accepted tasks and goals, regulates and supervises relations and eases realisation of general interest” (Petz, 1992).

Through that theoretical definition we can observe the role of the Welfare centre, a public institution in charge of welfare, which has an eminent roll and extreme importance in the area of protection and care for families and children. In order to reduce and prevent cases and causes of social endangerment, Welfare supports families and especially children in need. Article 82, subsection 2 of the Welfare law says: “The Welfare centre, on grounds of public authority, can take care of children who run away from home or an institution, carry out rearing measures towards children with behavioural disorders that are separated from their families or are still with them….” Subsection 3 says that the Welfare centre: “animates, organises and carries out activities in order to prevent and restrain social, family and personal problems; it conducts counselling for marital and family problems, raising children, and adoption and it participates in reducing problems with alcohol, drugs or other addictions. Apart from these duties the Welfare centre conducts other ways of protection:

1) Guardianship and adoption
2) Certificate disturbance degree in psychophysical development
3) Referring to care outside of one’s family:
a. placement in welfare institutions
b. placement in foster families
1) Carrying out court orders
2) Material protection
3) Enabling for independent work and life

In order to carry out its duties in an efficient way, the Welfare centre is
divided into five specialised departments:

1) Department of general social work
2) Department of legal protection for families
3) Department of guardianship
4) Department for protection of children and youth with behavioural disorders
5) Department for protection of psychologically and physically impaired

In our paper we will focus on work with families with juveniles with behavioural disorders as well as juvenile delinquents.

When we think about behavioural disorders in a general sense we think of organic or biological as much as psychological and social causes. Basically this term refers to behaviours which deviate from the general field of “personal and social adaptation” (Kovacevic, Stancic & Mejovšek, 1988).

Juvenile delinquency can be defined as the appearance of various antisocial and socially unacceptable behaviours, which are not in terms with social norms and legislation (Petz, 1992).

One of the measures and ways of protection that is applied towards children with behavioural disorders and towards juvenile delinquents is institutionalisation. That means that a juvenile or a child is referred into a welfare institution (measure passed by organ of guardianship) or a judiciary institution (by a court sentence for juvenile offenders). The measure of separation from the family is applied as a final measure or answer to unacceptable behaviour of the juvenile or child.

The term institutionalisation implies: “referral or placement of some person into an institution for correction of behaviour, rehabilitation, treatment and so on” (Petz, 1992).

There are many institutions whose purpose and goal is the correction of behaviour and rehabilitation of juvenile delinquents, children or youths with behavioural disorders. These are:

• Homes for children and youth
• Raising centres
• Centres for raising, educating and enabling children and youth
• Raising homes
• Raising institutions
• Disciplinary centres
• Special raising institutions
• Juvenile prisons

In all these institutions the basic content of work is the socialisation, resocialisation, raising and educating of juveniles. Although counselling and professional work with parents is necessary, these aspects of treatment are conducted very rarely or not at all. For that reason, a juvenile’s successful social reintegration after his dismissal from the institution is brought into question.

As we said in the beginning, family is the one that takes part in the beginning of the problem and if we don’t include it in the process of resolving a problem, it is very likely that all our achieved results will be jeopardised when the juvenile gets back to his or her unchanged family. The juvenile’s separation from family is always a personally and socially complex and painful process with uncertain results, so placement into an institution must be the last measure that we undertake. Because of that, many efforts are being put into the development of measures and ways of protecting families and children by focusing on preventing behavioural disorders and juvenile delinquency. A main and mutual premise of those preventive programs is: “It is more effective to prevent behavioural disorders than to treat them.”

Guided with that thought and keeping in mind all negative aspects of institutionalisation we think that it is necessary to find different preventive activities which will help “families in risk” in resolving their problems and in providing conditions for normal growth and development of children as well as prevent the emerging of behavioural disorders. These activities have primarily preventive characteristics but they can also be seen as an alternative to institutionalisation as well.

Prevention is society’s orientation to act before a problem appears (primary prevention); identification and control of symptoms, stopping further development of problems (secondary prevention); and reliving further negative effects of an existing problem (tertiary prevention).

Zagreb’s Welfare centre office in Pešcenica within its regular duties pays special attention to prevention of behavioural problems and juvenile delinquency. In order to prevent and remove causes and manifest forms of behaviour disorders, a preventive program called “Modification of behaviour through play” was created. This program was made for children in primary schools but along with work with children special attention is paid to work with their families. Working with families is considered a way of prevention but also an alternative to institutionalisation.

Because of the great influence that family has on the raising and socialisation of children with behaviour disorders and juvenile delinquents, in our paper we will point out the theoretical frame of work with families as well as the practical experiences gathered through work on the program “Modification of behaviour through play.”

Work with the families of juveniles who are included in the institutional treatment

Although we have already talked about the importance and significance
of the family in a child’s upbringing and guidance, let us point out once more
that family has a dominant and unavoidable role in the life of every child.
In the circle of family and its members, a child learns models of behaviour and
communication, and he or she forms attitudes and values towards himself or herself and other people. In spite of expectations and demands that the family should give the
child positive and quality contents, the opposite also happens – the
child is in a dysfunctional and unhealthy family atmosphere
growing up in a negative and non-stimulating surrounding, with the risk of
adopting negative patterns of behaviour. When it is necessary, for the purpose
of protecting and helping the child, the measure of separating the child
from the family and placing him in an appropriate institution is applied.
Separating the child from its natural environment doesn’t mean breaking up
with the family, particularly with the closest members of the family like
parents, brothers and sisters.

In the Republic of Croatia, institutional accommodation and treatment are applied as a measure of family justice and criminal justice protection of
children and adolescents. The decision to apply that measure is brought by a team of experts in the Centre for Social Welfare, based upon the Law of Social Welfare, the Family Law or the Juvenile Court (in cases of adolescents who have committed criminal acts), based upon the Law of Juvenile Courts.

Let us mention the role of the Centre for Social Welfare, which is
significant not just in the period of making the decision to separate a
child from the family, but also after the realisation of accommodation and
during the child’s stay and the treatment in the institution.

The decision of separating the child should occur when all other means of help and protection of the child and its family have been exhausted; in other words,
if with applied measures and forms of help problems haven’t been solved or
at least minimised (1.108-1.113 of the Family Law).

During the institutional treatment the role of the Centre is to regularly
observe the child and achieved results of the treatment, to have contact with the
employees of the institution and, in the end, to continue to observe the
family. Observation of the family should include not just periodical
contacts and visits, but also expertly guided help for parents so they can
secure the terms for the child to return to the family.

Law regulates obligations of the Centre through the duration of the
institutional measure. It states that "the Centre is obligated to
observe the conditions in which the protégé (child/adolescent) is
accommodated outside his own family, and in that purpose the Centre is
obligated to visit him at least once in every six months" (1.77 of the Law of
Social Welfare). However, it doesn’t state in legal provisions what
obligations the Centre has regarding parents through the duration of the
institutional treatment of their child. Practice shows that the
continuation of observing the family and counsel work with parents is
necessary if we want to reduce and eliminate family problems, also if we
want to make preparations for the child to return to its family. However,
non-definition of concrete obligations of expert workers in the Centre
regarding work with parents contributes to the unevenness in the
quality and quantity of contents and forms of expert work contacts with
parents. They go from a range of rare and superficial contacts, periodical
and formal visits to families to elaborated and defined counsel work
which includes teaching, drawing attention to setbacks in upbringing and
reinforcing the measure of custody on performing the parent’s right.

The analysis of these collective problems is not in the basic framework of the contents of this paper, so we will say more about the ways and contents of work of expert
workers in institutions for accommodation and treatment with parents of
accommodated children and adolescents. We will look back not only at what should be included in the contents of working with parents, but also at the real picture of the cooperation and communication between parents and expert workers in institutions for accommodation of children and adolescents.

When a child or an adolescent is separated from his family, it doesn’t mean permanent and final abandonment of that family; it represents temporary
removal from the natural family environment with the goal and tendency of
returning, as soon as necessary requirements are met on the child’s side as well as
on the family’s side and its functioning. The family should be helped with
the intervention of authorised social and other services, so that the family
can perform its upbringing role with quality and can prepare for, once
again, accepting its separated child.

Numerous (mainly foreign) research points out the need of expert work with
the family after the child has been separated, and returning the child to the family when the requirements for that are met.

In this way, Whitaker (1992, according to Zizak & Koller-Trbovic, 1999)
states many practical possibilities to include the family in the treatment
before, during and after the separation of the child from the family. He
thinks that treatment programs which show satisfactory results should be
focused on the interventions in the family as well, and not just on the
behaviour of the child. He corroborates that statement with the results of
numerous researches that have shown that after the child has been brought
back to the same, unchanged family environment, it needs to be separated
again for the same reasons it was separated the first time.

It is imperative that the family is included and takes an active part in their
child’s institutional treatment, if it wants to function once again with

Klomp (according to Zizak & Koller-Trbovic, 1999) states that different forms
of counselling and cooperation with the child and its parents through the
duration of the institutional treatment can be organised by the
institution itself, like:

• Formal and informal contact between parents and their children, with
or without the presence of a pedagogue
• Parent/child counselling
• Intervention contacts
• Mutual activities, etc.

Bernheim (1985, according to Zizak & Koller-Trbovic, 1999) states
the needs of the family while their child is accommodated in the
institution: a combination of information, education, ventilation of emotions and
support; contact with other families with similar experiences; clearly set
expectations from them; the possibility of significant roles in the treatment
of their children; and planning for dismissal.

Kiehn (1998, according to Zizak & Koller-Trbovic, 1999) thinks that, for the most
part, cooperation between the family and the institution should be performed
by a special expert, a so-called parent’s counsellor, who would establish
cooperation with parents even before the child would be accommodated in an

Regarding our authors, they are undivided in the judgement that work with
families during treatment (probably even before and after treatment)
is necessary, but they also point out significant drawbacks of that
aspect of work in our institutions. Lackovic and associates (1994,
according to Zizak & Koller-Trbovic, 1999) point out the negative
consequences of long-term accommodation of children in institutions and
possibilities of relieving and totally eliminating them. As one of the
solutions they recommend systematic planning of help for the family from the
moment the child is accommodated in an institution where the basic goal is
that the child returns to his/her family after treatment. If that weren’t
possible, the alternative would be to accommodate him in a foster family.

In the practice of our institutions, we can see a significant discrepancy
between the needed and realised contents of work with the family. We
can observe the causes of that condition through the aspect of work
performed by experts themselves (who are employed in the institution) and
through the motivation of parents (members of the family). In
other words, the quality and the frequency of cooperation and expert work
with the parents of adolescents depends on the experts themselves and on their
motivation and willingness to invest additional effort in order to improve
the cooperation between the institution and the family. A significant fact
is that institutions don’t have clearly defined and regulated contents,
forms and methods of work that are supposed to be conducted with the parents
of their protégés in their statutes. In those conditions, the expert work
with parents is left to the initiative and personal motivation of the
employees in institutions.

In order to give a complete insight and to get the real picture of how the
work with families is being run in institutions, we want to show the practical experiences of work from some of our institutions.

The Centre for upbringing in Karlovac accommodates children who come from
complete families in two-thirds of cases. The experts of this institution point out
that their part in achieving and maintaining cooperation with the parents
is often too little and insignificant without the proper authority. That makes it
possible for parents to decide for themselves how much time and in what
way they will solve the problems in the upbringing of their child. The
pedagogues point out significant difficulties in communication and
cooperation with parents whose children are accommodated in a half-day
stay, which means that the child returns to his family every day. In that
situation, if attitudes of parents and pedagogues are not justified and do not
agree, the child receives double messages and the meaning of the treatment
doesn’t or it is much more difficult to realise. The greatest obstacles represent beliefs of parents about their educational impossibility and their suspicion of and resistance to the acceptance of help outside the family circle.

When a child arrives to the Centre for upbringing in Karlovac, the pedagogues
try to systematically observe the occurrences in the family as much as
they can. Observance is realised through contacts and cooperation with
authorised medical, social, educational and other expert services and
workers who were included in some form of work with the child before his
accommodation to the institution. Significant forms of observing the family
are interviews and contacts with parents, and also the information they
receive directly from the child.

We will finish this retrospection with a quote by Ms. Maja Vucinic-Knezevic: "There is no cooperation. The care for the child should be widespread, but closely coordinated and with less number of participant." (Vucinic-Knezevic, 1994).

In the upbringing home at Losinj, cooperation and work with parents is not
defined nor regulated. The relationship between parents and employees is
superficial and one-sided and is being maintained in a way that parents and
only parents are in contact with the institution and able to inquire about their child. The
role of employees of this institution boils down to general and bleak
information they give to parents who inquire about their child. We can
conclude that the cooperation depends only on the willingness of parents,
when it should be both-sided. In the upbringing reformatory at Turopolje the
treatment of adolescents with complex and multiple emotional and social
problems is being run. Family conditions from which these
adolescents come are also very difficult and problematic. Part of these
adolescents comes from foster families or they were accommodated in another
institution before they arrived in Turopolje. Some of them don’t have their
own families and others came from incomplete or totally dysfunctional
families because of the existing pathology in behaviour or character of their
family members.

Those mentioned above represent significant difficulties to experts who work in
Turopolje in their effort to make contact, cooperate and counsel the
parents and other members of the family. In many cases the parents
don’t want to cooperate with them. The reality is that the cooperation is conducted sporadically. It is boiled down to occasional telephone contacts,
interviews on the occasions when parents come to visit their child or giving
information about their child on parents’ demands. Even in this institution, systematic and planned work with parents doesn’t exist.

In continuation we will show the results of the research, which was
done by Zizak and Koller-Trbovic about the cooperation of parents in our
institutions. The results are shown in table 1 (Zizak and

Table 1: Cooperation with parents

Cooperation with Parents
Total Percent
Written and telephone contacts with children
Parents can often visit their child
The child goes home for weekend regulary
Occasional visits to family for the weekend and on holidays
Organised work with parents who accept it well
Organised work with all parents
Occaisonal organised work with all parents
Occaisonal organised work with some parents
Occasional visits to family and work with parents
No organised work with parents
Other and/or without an answer

Based on everything we have shown so far, as well as the results of this
research, we can conclude that enabling the protégés to contact their
parents by mail or phone, and through visits from parents, or when
adolescents go to their families on weekends or holidays, is mostly satisfactorily
organised and enabled in our institutions. Because of that it becomes more
prominent that cooperation of institutions with the family in the
form of expert treatment, therapeutic and educational work is minimal.
It is particularly noticeable with institutions which, because of their
dislocation and distance from the families’ place of residence, often can’t
maintain more intensive and quality cooperation with the parents.

All of the given facts contribute in weakening the conclusion that the quality and success of institutional treatment is questionable and doubtful.


Theoretical frame of work with families

Much research in the last ten years showed that the biggest influence on child’s behaviour are interpersonal relations within the family, while the social and economical status and family structure has very little influence on the occurrence of behavioural disorders and delinquency. By interpersonal relations we understand relations between parents and the quality of parent-child relations, style of raising and presence of asocial behaviour within the family. Affirmed and evident influence of family on the development and growing up of a child goes in favour of our opinion that professional and directed work with family must be, if not an independent segment of work with children with behavioural disorders, at least a part of any institutional or other measure. In order for work with families to be appropriately and professionally done, it is necessary that every professional who works with families is familiar with basic theories about ways of family functioning. Only in that way can we accomplish the goals that we set at the beginning of treatment.

Different theoretical approaches observe the family from different aspects and all of them look at only one or two segments of its functioning. Each family’s uniqueness demands the professional to use an approach appropriate to the specific family. Because of that professionals should not be limited in their work by the use of only one theoretical approach to family. Wide theoretical knowledge gives them a possibility to choose between different approaches and to use one or more of them depending on the needs of a specific family. Because of that in this part of our paper we will mention some basic points from a couple of theoretical approaches to the family with emphasis on those aspects that theories stress as very important in family functioning or non-functioning.


Theory of social exchange

The theory of social exchange includes:
• a symbolic interaction theory that points out meanings of communication and
roles within the family
• a social network theory which emphasises the importance of the social network
as a social phenomenon that makes exchange of resources possible.

The theory of social exchange defines two kinds of networks: the slightly woven network and the thick network. The thickness of the network is important when faced with stressing situations (like losing a parent), and it is needed in situations and ages when a person depends on the social environment. It is not needed when a person is independent and has a need for new relations in the social environment.

This theory, by combining these two approaches, tries to explain people’s behaviour in the social structure and it sees people as participants in a market, who, in the process of exchanging resources, apply criteria of reciprocity. Foa and Fra have divided these resources into six groups: love, status, information, money, goods and services. This theory says that relations between people, even within family, are estimated on a cost-benefit base. According to them, a person wants to maximise benefits and minimise the cost of getting results.

reward – price = result of action

In everyday life that would mean that we do all things in order to benefit from them and that people are the happiest when they get what they think that they deserve (Jankovic, 1996).

This theoretical approach points out two kinds of relationships: cooperative and competitive. In a cooperative relationship, the husband and wife are trying to increase their “joined profit”. In a competitive relationship, the couple is trying to increase individual profit that in most cases results with the exchange of negative resources like hate and lies.

Therefore, when working with a family it is necessary to learn about the family values and things that can motivate them to certain actions.


Theory of conflicts

This theory points out that the society isn’t basically cooperative but is instead divided into individuals that are in constant conflict. Marriage and family relationships are based on love, but the bases of these relationships are power and conflict as well. According to this approach, in conflicts, the side that is more powerful wins.

Research workers that accepted this theory believe that conflict is a natural way of human behaviour and as such it is welcome. Family members have different abilities, resources and power. Sources of power are:
1. Rightness – is based on the patriarchal system, e.g. “Father is always right.”
2. Money – “While you are living under our roof….” “While you eat the food I buy….”
3. Goods – are defined as the potential for fulfilment of needs
4. Physical power – it is mostly shown through these words: “If you don’t do that, I will smack you!”
5. Mind – as capability of handling everyday situations and choosing best solutions
6. Love – as a source of power it is shown by these words: “If you really love me….” It represents the strength by which one can force someone on something and sometimes even on everything.

In order to fully understand family relations, it is important to define the sources of power by which family members are taking their positions within the family.


Theory of sexes

This theory is based on the assumption that relations between sexes depend on relations of power and that men organised the society in order to dominate women. It is focused on:
• specific behaviours that are defined as male or female
• work that is divided into men’s and women’s jobs
• different institutions that give advantages to men

In some families sex is a very important factor in family dynamics and one segment of our work should be focused on changing that.


Theory of social support

This theory points out the importance of influence that social support has on a family. Ries defines social support as a client’s feeling that he is surrounded with people that take care of them, feeling that he is among people who appreciate him and with whom he is closely connected (Jankovic, 1996). Research that was conducted within this theory proved that there is a connection between social support and teenagers’ health, parents’ professional promotion, physical health of partners, length of recovery from illness and so on. This theory focuses on positive ways of social interactions and it points out the role that society has when its members face stressful situations.

Some families, especially those in large cities, are very isolated and lonely. In a case of crises, they can’t depend on their relatives. For them the process of solving problems is harder and much more painful. In these situations it is necessary for the family to ask for support from friends or some government or non-government organisations.


Biologically-analytical theory

Many scientists have researched the influence that genetic heritage has on human behaviour and physiology. One of the theories based on the genetic heritage influence is the Schicksal analysis. It points out that the choice of person that we love, our ideals, friends, profession, sicknesses or the way we die is determined by our genes.

Szondi, in ancestor analysis, says that in a way, through the recessive genes our ancestors live in us and dictate our important physical and psychological characteristics and our individual way of functioning. He says that the family unconscious dictates the most important decisions in the area of people’s social functioning.

Because of that it is important to know the history of each family. Sometimes the disturbance doesn’t have to be caused by genes but it is good to have all information that can help us in creating a complete family picture.


Systematic approach to family

This theoretical approach points out that a family is a system connected and dependent on all other subsystems (family members) and intersystem (society). Because of that, if a problem with one member appears, the whole interaction and behaviour of all members will be changed. Family subsystems include the parental system, the child(ren) system and the parent-child(ren) system.
Family systems with disturbed interactions have vague and negative sources, meaning and content of messages and basic relations. The system has its boundaries, which can be physical, psychological or social and any attack on them will lead to reaction in all parts of the system. To keep itself going and to solve critical situations, the system uses mechanisms of control and it changes according to new conditions.

Relations between partners can be:
• Symmetric: characterised by constant conflict of partners who are fighting for the position of the better/first family member.
• Complementary: characterised by inequality, which means that one of the partners offers something that the other one doesn’t have at all.
• Reciprocal: symmetric and complementary relations are combined and that enables partners for optimal functioning.
• Triad: representing a union of two people against a third person. Usually that is a parent with a child or children against the other parent. This union complicates conflicts because it is impossible for the child to ally with one parent against the other. A union of parents versus children or children versus parents is rare. A possible outcome of this “game” can be that one parent ties the child strongly to himself and pushes the other parent out of the family system, driving him/her to different kinds of pathology. The parent who wins is usually the weaker part of the system and the child then takes over the duty to care about him/her. This kind of relation has the tendency to repeat itself from generation to generation.

Double bind messages are an important part of this theory. They are double messages that have two completely different claims at the same time, sent simultaneously by one or more persons between who there is an authority-submission relation. That kind of message has two contradictory claims, one sounds authoritative, and the other is opposite and mostly directed in a non-verbal way. Open and meaningful communication in the family is necessary for healthy and qualitative family interaction. It is important to recognise and explain double bind messages and their source, and to resolve their consequences.

This theory points out a need for recognition of complete functioning of the family, its atmosphere and environment. To be able to do that we must learn about all three levels of family functioning: the individual level (micro), the family level (mezzo) and the community level (macro). For example, if a pupil has a behavioural disorder, a professional must act on the child’s personal level and help him to overcome emotional and cognitive obstacles. That would be the micro level. At the same time he must work with his family to eliminate causes of that behaviour (mezzo level) and he must also intervene in the school (macro level).

It is very important that a professional directs his attention at finding, inciting and reinforcing positive family resources.

Every theory sees family functioning problems from its point of view and it is almost impossible to find a theory that we could say found all the answers. But we shouldn’t put all these theories aside and pronounce them useless because of that. It is important to accept the fact that the family is a very complicated, always changing and developing phenomenon that always asks for adjustments of approaches and ways of working with families.

Forms of work with families in the program “Modification of Behaviour Through Play”

In this part of our work we will show the forms of work with families
within the framework of realising the preventive program, "Modification of
Behaviour through Play.”

According to the theory of a systematic approach to the family, in order to
help the child we need to work on all three levels of functioning: micro,
mezzo and macro. The preventive program "Modification of Behavior through
Play" applies that in practice by organising its preventive work through
these segments of work:

Work with the child
1. group work
2. individual work
Work with the family
1. parent conferences (group work)
2. visits to the family (individual work)
Work with the school staff
1. attending conferences
2. individual contact
Work with other services
1. Centres for social welfare
2. faculties
3. non-government organisations

The program includes all levels of action, but as it is in the first
plan of this presentation work with the families, we will show and explain
the specific qualities of work with families. We think that the applied
forms of work with families and concrete experiences obtained during the
realisation of this program can be used for any other form of work with the
family in the framework of some institutional or non-institutional treatment. Work with the family is maintained through parent conferences and visits to
families. Both forms of work are done once a month, and visits to
the family are done more often if needed. The plan and the program of
work with families is written out at the beginning of the school year by group
leaders using information and knowledge about current and possible family problems
and their own insight on the functioning of every particular family.

Parent meetings

Within the regular school plan and program class teachers organise parent meetings during the year. This kind of parent meetings mostly deals with problems in school success and behavioural problems of children. During these meetings parents are often called out because of something their child did or didn’t do. Parents, in front of all the other parents, are being accused as bad parents that don’t take care of their children. For the most part, nobody tells them what to do to make changes so that they could solve a problem. To parents that kind of situation is very unpleasant and frustrating and the final result is that parents avoid coming to school. Furthermore, their absence from meetings just proves the teacher’s point that they are lousy and irresponsible parents. So, on one hand is the distrust and criticism of class teachers and on the other hand are frustration, ignorance and insecurity of the parents. This results in a low-quality superficial relationship that doesn’t help the child, parent or teacher in solving problems. These situations prove that the other side is always guilty and that nothing can be done. In this case nobody took the responsibility and the magic circle was created.

In order to change that, to help parents and teachers in handling a child and in order to improve communication between parents and teachers, the program “modification of behaviour through play” included organisation of parent meetings.

Experts who work in this program approach the parents aiming to teach and provide help; they are guided with the thought that problems can be solved. In their work with parents they start from the conviction that parents love their children, that they want what is best for them, but also they understand that parents are sometimes limited in their capabilities and knowledge, that they make mistakes and are sometimes unable to resolve problem situations. An approach in which parents see acceptance, respect, and appreciation results with qualitative, open and trusting relationships in which parents are willing to hear suggestions and accept offered help.


Goals of parent meetings

• Education – Giving parents knowledge about raising children. Group leaders choose subjects and themes they decide are most important to the parents with whom they work.
• Exchange of experience – Parents, between themselves, comment and estimate personal experiences in the process of finding and applying different ways of solving problems.
• Mutual parents’ support – Parents support each other, realising that they are not the only ones with those problems, which is a very important part of working with parents.
• Reflection and evaluation – Through talking about their problems and ways of resolving them and by analysing their actions parents face tough self-perception and self-evaluation. They are asked to look for new ways of solving problems and to change ineffective behaviours.
• Developing the parents’ habit of coming to school regularly and in that way, show their responsibility and care for the child.

The way of organising parents’ meetings and its realisation depends on group leaders, who mostly organise theme workshops on subjects that they discuss with children in group meetings. Parents are asked to act, draw, write, discuss or just talk. Parents are often surprised with this kind of work after the first meeting but they are also extremely satisfied because they have been listened to for the first time and they were given a possibility to learn new ways of solving a problem. Also, parents are not brought into a situation in which they are blamed because of their child’s grades or behaviour. Some of the parents hear for the first time some positive things about their child.

Although parent meetings are organised for the parents and mostly focus on the problems and emotions of parents, group leaders sometimes organise parent meetings in which the children are present as well. It was noticed that joined meetings improve communication between parents and children. Children and parents openly talk about their actions and problems. Both sides are given the opportunity to be heard and that gives them a feeling of importance and a possibility to compare different opinions and to find new solutions that would suit both sides.

This kind of meeting is very dynamic and children very gladly participate even when their parent isn’t present.

Motivation for attending parents meetings

Even though parents who come to the meetings are satisfied and thankful for this kind of work, a big problem of group leaders is motivating parents to regularly attend them. In order to get parents to come, group leaders are finding many ways of motivating them. Some ideas are:
• Timely written invitations with marked themes and an explanation of its importance. Some leaders ask parents to send back signed invitations through their children if they will come to the meeting.
• Timely invitations to the meeting by telephone. Leaders ask for the confirmation of their coming or explanation of the reasons of their absence.
• Conversation about the subject of the meeting and its importance during the leader’s visits to the families.
• Children are asked to remind their parents of the meeting. We noticed that children can easier “force” their parents to come to a meeting because it is important to children that their parents are present especially if that means that they can participate in the meeting as well.
• Parents are asked to choose the subjects of the parent meetings and the time when the meeting will be conducted.
• If a parent doesn’t come to a parent meeting one of the group leaders after the meeting goes to visit the family and asks for a reason of their absence. With that they want to stress the importance of their coming but also to show how irresponsible their absence was.
• We noticed that repeating a parents’ meeting if half of the parents wasn’t present is ineffective because those parents didn’t come to the repeated meeting either.
• We found it efficient to leave the practical side of organisation of a meeting (like time, place, etc.) to one of the motivated parents. Meetings in that case were held in his or her house in an informal atmosphere. That parent reminded other parents of the day and time of a meeting.

Table 2: Parents’ attendance at parents meetings

Primary school
August Cesarec Vuko-merec Dr. Vinko Žganec Petar Prera-dovic Zapre-šic Lovro
Matacic Vuko-
Number of children in the group
Number of parents’ meetings held
Average number of parents at meetings
Number of repeated parents’ meetings
Average number of parents at repeted meetings

Group leaders state that the reasons why parents aren’t coming to the meetings are work, indifference, health problems and care for young children. It is interesting that some parents use these reasons as an excuse while for other (obviously motivated) parents those same situations don’t prevent them from attending parents’ meetings.

In connection with parents’ meetings there is another problem: the demotivation of the group leaders in organising parents meetings if only a small number of parents attend the meetings.


Themes of parents meetings

Family dynamic, its relations and mutual influence of family members cause mutual family responsibility. In a family, problems shouldn’t be treated as “mine” or “yours” but as mutual. They ask for a mutual effort of all family members and use of the whole family potential (Jull, 1995).

In work with parents it is important to stress their responsibility and the need for their participation in solving family problems. Parents sometimes tend to turn away from problems, saying: “There is nothing more that I can do here,” “I already tried everything,” or “He is simply incorrigible.” They tend to give up or shift responsibility on someone else like the school or the child’s friends, expecting that someone else will resolve their problems. Parents show resistance when facing their failures in raising their children so it is hard for them to see their mistakes and to take their share of responsibility for the child’s behaviour.

For that reason, work with parents includes work on recognising and understanding processes in the family and learning to freely express one’s opinion and emotions. Here are some of the themes from the wide spectrum of working with the family:
• Expectations parents have for their children, themselves and their spouses
• “How I see my child”
• Discipline in groups and at home
• Raising actions of parents
• “How well do I know my child?”
• Relations in the family
• Communication in the family
• “My needs”
• “My child’s needs”
• Emotions- how to recognise, understand and accept them
• “What do I do when a child is angry at me?”
• “What do I do when I’m angry at a child?”

In great number of families, children, even at very early ages, send signals through their behaviour that there is a problem within their family. Usually, those problems are not serious or pathological but just inappropriate and inefficient parent actions towards a child. These are often caused by a parent’s ignorance of basic knowledge about raising or having wrong ideas about raising children that they learned from their parents. Some of those parents were themselves raised in families in which their parents treated them badly (Jull, 1995).

By informing, teaching and counselling them, such parents are helped to learn necessary information about raising children and the processes of their growing up. In that way they get a chance to correct their behaviour and a possibility to understand their child better. For that reason, at parents’ meetings we talk about these subjects:
• Parents’ expectations (for this program, for their child)
• Importance of praising
• Risk factors and factors of protection
• How to talk to the children qualitatively
• How to motivate a child to fulfil its school obligations
• How to develop the child’s working habits
• Importance of cooperation with the school
• Parents’ influence on developing the child’s self-respect
• Drugs and other addictions
• Process of non-violent problem resolution
• Sexual maturing
• Raising failures and difficulties


Visits to the family

Visits to the family are a specific part of the work with families of the
program MPPI, so they are one of its most important aspects. Different
from parent conferences, which have a general educational and counseling
character and where the work is based on the principles of group work,
on visits we talk about the specific problems which occur in that family
and the possibilities of solving them. Along with direct contact and a stay in the family environment, group leaders can get more insight into many aspects and circumstances of the life of the particular family (1998, a group of authors). Some things they gain insight into include the family atmosphere and structure, the relationship between its members and the characteristics and conditions of the family's residential community.

Purposes of visits to the family

• Detailed information of the conditions the family lives in
• Insight into family relationships
• Giving information to other institutions that can provide adequate help
to the family
• The exchange of information of the child’s behaviour
• Education on children’s upbringing
• Establishing more intimate contact with family members
• Giving emotional and expert support to parents

On the occasion of visits to the family, leaders and parents get to know
each other better, so it’s possible for information to flow. The leaders
give information to parents about their child’s behavior in the group, they
give their remarks, suggest certain procedures and so on. If it’s
necessary (to eliminate possible obscurities and hesitations of parents
regarding the entire purpose, goal and methods of work with the children in
the program), they are given additional explanations and information.
Sometimes the children are present at the interviews with their parents.

During visits to the family, on the leaders’ initiative, parents "get the
possibility to open themselves to the outside world and get the image of
themselves from outer observers" (1998, a group of authors). Leaders also
promote all positive processes, activities and relationships they come
across during their visits. The role and obligations of group leaders demand
that they prepare themselves thoroughly for visits, especially the first
visit to the family, when they make foundations for future relationships.
The leaders must have good capabilities of perceiving details and
relationships because they can get more answers to the questions regarding
that family by monitoring that family closely rather than through direct
and open conversation. The leaders must have excellent communication skills,
good capability of perception and flexibility. We can conclude with
justification that the quality of the cooperation with the family depends
mostly on the capabilities, knowledge and engagement of group leaders.

Many experts who work with families proudly point out that they are always on
the children’s side, which presents, if we observe it professionally,
one-sidedness, unobjectivity and a biased attitude towards parents. An expert
must be objective; he or she must be able to perceive relationships and processes
between parents and children and not lean only to one side. Because of
those reasons, leaders - no matter how close they become with parents - must
keep their professional distance. This allows them to objectively observe problems in the family.


Subjects of visits to the family

What is discussed with parents during visits to the family
can be divided into two subjects: those which refer to the general
situation in the family and those which refer to children themselves as well as their
their upbringing.

Subjects that refer to the child and upbringing procedures of parents
• The behaviour of the child in the group
• The child’s self-esteem
• Praising the child for his behaviour
• The motivation for learning
• Punishment
• Consistency of parents about reinforcing rules and agreements
• Methods of upbringing and parents’ procedures

For a long time people thought that it was unprofessional to sit down with
clients and simply talk about life. But group leaders, in open and honest conversation, can talk to parents and encourage them to observe their flaws in the upbringing processes and work out the solutions themselves. In that way, we can create a warm
relationship and an atmosphere of trust in which we open the conversation
about vital and delicate problems and in which parents can feel our concern
and our suggestion to their problems (Jull, 1995).

Some of the general contents of conversations between leaders and parents
not directly regarding the child are:
• The medical condition of family members
• Financial problems of the family
• Significant news in the life of the family

Atmosphere during the family visits

Thanks to the communicative efforts, empathy and emotional warmth of
leaders, parents show great interest for cooperation, which sometimes
crosses the bounds of an official relationship. Leaders are often invited
to some important family gatherings.

Leaders, emphasising the interest and cooperation of parents, notice that
the level of quality of cooperation and relationships indirectly reflects
the activity and cooperation of children themselves. That is just more
proof that we need to work with the whole family in order to achieve wanted

We must definitely have in mind that work with families demands special
tolerance, persistence and clear definition of objectives in our work.
Besides that, we need to maintain objectivity and reality in our
estimation of possibilities to achieve changes. The leader is an expert
person that has a professional obligation to help and it is his/her
responsibility to do the job with quality and expertise. Sometimes, even with all
that trouble and effort, the expected results fail to come, which can be
discouraging. Because of that it is important to know what our
responsibility is and we must remind ourselves we cannot live other people’s lives.


The research

Towards the end of this school year, we have conducted research called
“Work with the family on the preventive program Modification of behaviour
through play.” The research was initiated with the purpose of evaluating the
MPPI program and to gather and analyse the data of the work with the family in
the program’s framework. We have set the following specific objectives in our research:
1. To find the opinion and attitudes of parents concerning our work with
the family as a whole
2. Parents’ evaluation of the effectiveness of parents’ meetings that
were held and the evaluation of visits to the family with the synthesis of
their suggestions for our future work
3. To find out the reasons of poor attendance to these meetings

Subjects of the research were parents of the children included in the group
work within the framework of the program MPPI in the area of Pešcenica and
the town Zapresic, and leaders of group work in the MPPI program. The total number of questioned subjects was 65 and the number of leaders of group work was 16.

Set of instruments: written questionnaire (for parents and group leaders); the questionnaire was made up of ten different questions by type: six open type questions, three multiple-choice questions and one scale of estimation. We decided for a larger number of open type questions because we wanted to avoid "ready" answers, which can be suggestible (we wanted to get as many authentic answers and parents’ suggestions as possible).

The time of realisation of the research: the research was conducted from May
1 until June 1, 2001.

The way the research was conducted: the questionnaire was given to group
leaders with instructions on how to help parents fill it out the
questionnaire and eventual obscurities were explained beforehand. The questionnaires were given to the parents with the remark that the data will be anonymous and used
with the purpose of evaluating the program as a foundation to further
improvement of expert work.

Processing of the given data: answers to the open type questions are grouped in
categories and alternative answers are presented in percentages.


Results of the research

The first area of the research was regarding the establishment of positive aspects of the work of leaders with the family using the following questions:
1. Name at least three things with which you are satisfied in your cooperation with group leaders.
2. Which themes were proven most useful to you and were elaborated upon at parents’ meetings?
3. Grade how much you are satisfied with the way of leading parents’ meetings.
4. Which topics were proven useful and talked about during the leaders’ visits to your home?

We grouped the answers to the first question in these three categories and ranked them according to their frequency in answers:

Table 3: Estimation of positive aspects of leaders’ work with the family
Estimation of positive aspects of leaders’ work with the family Percent
Professional skills and the way of the leaders’ work 75.1
The leaders’ personality 20.9
Technical conditions 3.9

It is clearly visible from the table that the parents are satisfied the most
with the professional skills and the way of the leaders’ work. Their satisfaction
is in regards to:
• The way of communication of leaders
• The leaders’ accessibility
• The choice of subjects of conversation
• The expert work on solving problems
• The interest and the care of the leaders for the child
• The involvement of leaders
• Giving support, etc.

We put the reasons above into the category of professional skills and the way of leaders’ work. The parents often stated some characteristics of leaders which especially impressed them. We will mention just a few: spontaneity, patience, understanding, kindness, reliability, complaisance, etc. In the category of technical conditions we put the way parents’ meetings were arranged, shifting of technical terms and organisation of the work. The themes of parents’ meetings, which the parents have estimated and pointed out as the most useful are:
1. The prevention of addictions
2. Quality learning
3. Communication with the child
4. Quality upbringing

We think that the parents were attracted to these themes by their actuality
(the prevention of addictions) and their tight connection to contents of
real, every-day problems which the parents must face (problems with the child failing school, with communication in the family and with the
upbringing of their child). From this we can conclude that a proper choice
of contents for parents’ meetings can motivate the parents and their
readiness for cooperation.

Table 4: The scale of estimation for the parents’ satisfaction with parents’
The satisfaction with parents’ meetings Percent
Markedly satisfied 76.9
Satisfied 15.4
Neither satisfied nor unsatisfied 1.5
Unsatisfied 0
Markedly unsatisfied 0
Did not estimate 6.1

From this data we can see that most parents are markedly satisfied with the
way of leading the parents’ meetings, which represents a positive feedback
to us as group leaders about our work methods. It’s a delusion to think that
parents don’t want to try alternative methods of work. The given results
confirm this as well as they confirm that we approached parents in the
right way, that we selected the right topics and presented them in an
interesting way.

Parents selected these topics as most useful, and we talked about them
during our visits to the family:
1. The child’s behaviour
2. Learning
3. Addictions
4. Upbringing methods

We see from the given answers that the topics which parents pointed out the
most and were elaborated upon during the visits to the family are very similar
to topics which they pointed out as the most interesting at parents’
meetings. Ranking the topics on how interesting they were is somewhat
different because in family visits the focus is more on the specifics of
every child and his or her behaviour and school success. We talk less about general
topics as addictions because most of the children don’t have problems with
that at this time. Upbringing methods as the topic of conversation is
positioned last because parents are interested in what upbringing methods
are successful, but they have a hard time admitting their own flaws and
oversights in upbringing.

In the next part of the research we focused on the examination of the things
the parents didn’t like in the leaders’ work with the family and on
defining the reasons for poor attendance to parents’ meetings. The
questions are:
1. What would you change in your cooperation with group leaders?
2. What are your suggestions for improving the cooperation with group leaders?
3. Who or what could affect the regularity of your attendance to parents’ meetings?
4. How many parents’ meetings did you attend?
5. What were the reasons for your absences from parents’ meetings?
6. In what way did group leaders interest you and compel you to
attend parents’ meetings?

Table 5: Parents’ remarks
Parents’ remarks Percent
The way of communication 1.4
The way of arranging visits 11.4
The way of arranging parents’ meetings 8.6
The way of counselling and eventual suggestions to flaws in upbringing 7.1
Nothing 64.3
Miscellaneous 5.7

It is noticeable from the results that most of the parents have no remarks
on their cooperation with group leaders. A total of 11.4 percent of parents think that
visits should be announced and arranged in advance. Unannounced visits to
the family don’t suit all of the parents but they are conducted to come
upon the real situation in the family. 7.1 percent of parents stated that they would change the way leaders counsel them and how they suggest flaws in their upbringing. We can explain that with the fact that some parents have a hard time facing their own difficulties and problems in upbringing. To us it’s a signal that in some cases we didn’t find the adequate approach to parents and that is something to work on in the future.

Table 6: Attendance at parents’ meetings
Number of parents’ meetings Attendance of parents (percent)
6 or more 15.4
From 3 to 5 50.8
From 1 to 2 27.7
None 6.1

According to the data in table 6 we conclude that most of the parents
attended at least half of the arranged parents’ meetings.

Table 7: The reasons of absence from parents’ meetings
The reasons of absence Frequency of reasons (percent)
Medical reasons 10.3
Business engagements 42.3
Family engagements 30.8
Indifference 1.3
I forgot 1.3
They called us too late 2.6
Nothing 10.3
Miscellaneous 1.3

The most frequent reasons of parents’ absence are family engagements, business engagements and medical reasons.

We wanted to find out how leaders interested the parents in attending the parents’ meetings, and the most frequent answers of parents were: with interesting subjects, with their methods of work and with their personality.

At the end of the elaboration of this research, we have left the data regarding the reasons that can affect the attendance of parents to parents’ meetings and their propositions how to improve the cooperation between parents and group leaders.

Parents did or did not attend meetings according to various negative (demotivating) and positive (motivating) factors. For example, parents didn’t come to the meetings because they expected better results with their child in learning and behaviour, they wanted more interesting topics, or they were prevented because of family, business or medical reasons. On the other hand, they attended parents’ meetings because they felt comfortable, because of the educational character of meetings, they had the desire to help their child and because of their conscience and responsibility, etc.
The parents stated these propositions on how to improve the co-operation with group leaders:
• Harsher control and reviewing
• Parents’ meetings with children
• Longer and more frequent visits to the family
• More discussions about drugs
• More understanding for severe emotional and economical problems in the family
• Organised work with more groups of children
• More frequent meetings with children
• More field trips

Parents have stated many propositions that are extremely valuable to us. This information will be of great practical use in the further creation of our work, in the field of cooperation and work with the family, as well as in the field of the work with children. Some of the parents suggested that we work more with children and spend less time with them (parents), and that we don’t visit them at their homes, which contributes to the fact that parents have a hard time of accepting their part of the responsibility for the child’s behaviour.


Family has a big and important influence on the development of a young person. The role of the family, especially the parents’ role in raising children, can be seen through many commitments that ask for certain knowledge and a willingness to learn. To be an active participant and moderator in the process of child rearing and the development of a person implies considerable responsibility and serious duty that it is requested of each parent. However, some parents, due to all sorts of reasons, are not capable to fulfil them by themselves and need professional help from adequate social services.

Help from society can be seen through a variety of measures and actions directed at helping the family. Help and protection can be enforced in institutions as well as outside of them.

A child’s separation from the family as an institutional measure can result in negative effects on the child and the family. One of the important problems is the absence or lack of professional work with parents during the child’s placement in the institution. The child’s separation from the natural family environment is always a stressful experience that leaves big marks on the child’s emotional development. New research is not just trying to find new ways of relieving and removing negative aspects of institutionalisation but they are trying to find more effective and useful ways of help and treatment that can be conducted outside of institutions.

The preventive program “Modification of behaviour through play” represents a way of working professionally with the children and their parents outside of an institution. The experience of working with the parents through meetings and family visits has confirmed that this kind of work makes sense and gives good results. For the future, it opens new prospectives for finding other alternative measures that could be conducted outside of institutions.

References (please try to provide fuller information)

1. Ajdukovic, M.: “Style of raising as a factor of delinquent behaviour”, applied psychology 11/1990.
2. Jankovic, J.: “Approaching to the family”, Zagreb, 1996.
3. Jull, J.: “Talking to the family: perspectives and processes”, Zagreb, 1995.
4. Mejovšek, M., Kovacevic, Stancic, V. 1988.
5. Family law, Public paper no. 81, 1998.
6. Petz, B.: “Physiological dictionary”, Zagreb, 1992.
7. Group of authors: Modification of behaviour through play”, Zagreb, 1998.
8. Group of authors: “Collection of papers- Our family today”, Ministry of work and welfare, Zagreb, 1994.
9. Group of authors: ”Collection of papers- Raising in homes for juvenile’s –How to go further?”, Ministry of work and welfare, Zagreb, 1999.
10. Welfare law, Public paper no. 73, 1997.
11. Juvenile court’s law, Public paper no. 81, 1997.
12. Žižak, A. i Koller-Trbovic, N.: “Raising and treatment in welfare institutions- descriptive study”, Zagreb, 1999.

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