Family Partners as Essential Staff in Residential Intervention

The workforce for residential interventions in the United States is in crisis as the country continues to move through the stress and trauma of the pandemic and heightened civil discord.   New workforce development strategies are needed.  One that has been used by some programs over the past two decades is to hire parents with lived experience as staff.  These individuals, typically assigned titles such as Family Partner or Family Peer Support Specialist, have become recognized in these organizations as not simply supplementary staff in the workforce but as essential agents of youth and family voice, resilience and skill building, partnering with communities, and transformational change.

A recent literature review (James, 2020) found overwhelming evidence of the effectiveness of parent involvement in residential and community services, and of parent or family mediated interventions yielding multiple outcomes, concluding that family driven care is evidence-informed.  Hiring Family Partners has been found to be essential in engaging families and embedding family driven care into an organization   (Kuppinger, et. al 2020).

Family Partners both supplement and complement the work of the rest of the staff, by:

-facilitating initial and ongoing communication with youth’s families:

-bringing the family perspective to staff meetings and day to day life in the program;

-helping bring the staff and program perspective to families; and

-informing policy and programming decisions at all levels of the organization.

There are challenges to adding Family Partners to the workforce of residential programs.  Creating or affirming an organizational culture that supports employing or contracting with parents as essential members of the staff requires a passionate commitment from leadership, an organizational assessment, and initial and ongoing training.  Integrating individuals who have been clients at another time or place in the system as members of the organization’s workforce involves careful work on policies, procedures, and practice guidelines. Recruitment, hiring, and supervision require flexible reengineering of established protocols.  Defining differential roles and scopes of practice is critical in building integrated essential staff teams.

Organizations that have hired Family Partners have reaped important benefits (Caldwell, et. al. 2020), including;

-improved quality in organizational systems and policies informed by the family perspective;

-greater engagement with youth and families;

-more trauma informed responses in the program;

-better outcomes;

-greater overall collaboration with everyone involved; and, perhaps most importantly,

-a transformational mindset that generalizes to other program practices.

This workshop will be led by family members who have had children in residential programs and have worked as Family Partners, along with a former CEO who integrated Family Support Specialists across multiple residential and community programs in a multi-service organization.  It will define family driven care and its importance in residential interventions, describe the neurodevelopmental alignment of this practice, discuss the challenges and outcomes of hiring Family Partners, provide examples of programs that have successfully moved in this direction, and offer resources for attendees to pursue further information and assistance. Ample opportunity for dialogue and interaction will be offered throughout the presentation.


Robert E. Lieberman, MA, LPC

President , Lieberman Group, Inc.


Nancy Pierce

Consultant , BBI


Sandy Heine

BBI Consultant