Understanding the Family Forward Program
In June 2014, I became an Associate with Alyson Jones & Associates. At that time, I joined the Family Forward Program. This is a community-based counselling program that provides therapy to separated families who have experienced a parent child attachment disruption that may have been caused by parental alienation, estrangement or a combination of both. While I came into this therapeutic work with over 30 years clinical experience, the Family Forward Program felt like it was truly a “trial by fire” experience. Participating in the delivery of therapy to high conflict families where there is alienation, estrangement or attachment disruption has been the most challenging work I have undertaken.
After four and half years of working in the Family Forward Program, I continue to see it is an effective and comprehensive community-based program. This Blog has been prepared to provide an overview of the key components of this program, and offer others a deeper understanding of this important and challenging work.
Key Components of the Family Forward Program
- Team Based Approach
- Each family assigned a Parent Therapist and a Child Therapist
- Case Management Model
- Comprehensive Treatment Agreement
- Individualized Case Plan and Rules of Engagement
- Psychoeducational Component
- Use of Minutes and Progress Reports
Family Forward Key Components Explained
1. Team Based Approach
Despite being private practitioners, all the Associates participating in the Family Forward Program meet on a regular basis as an entire team. One of the advantages to the clients is that the team does not charge fees to the clients for those full team meetings. These meetings provide an opportunity for Group Supervision with an emphasis on professional development and case management. Individual team members regularly lead educational sessions within the entire team. This provides a unique opportunity for professional growth and clinical support. This is critical to ensure that Associates are continuing to deepen their expertise while being adequately supported as they carry out this challenging, frequently stressful work.
2. Each family assigned a Parent Therapist and a Child Therapist
Each case is assigned a Parent Therapist and a Child Therapist. The therapists work as a team when providing services to families. The Parent Therapist provides parent coaching to both parents. The Child Therapist provides clinical support to the children. Parent Therapists and Child Therapists regularly meet with the entire family and provide therapy to the entire family during these family sessions.
Parents and children are assisted in understanding that this is a “transparent program”. The family is advised from the beginning that there are critically important issues the need to be discussed in-order to move forward. This is done with the understanding that confidentiality and adult/child boundaries will be respected. Children are provided a high level of clinical support to assist them in discussing highly sensitive/emotionally charged issues with their parents. This often involves many sessions ensuring that parents and children are well prepared/supported to engage in these restorative conversations.
3. Case Management Model
Incorporating a Case Management Model is critically important to successful intervention. The issues are often complex requiring comprehensive case management to ensure the treatment goals/objectives remain in focus and are achieved. This role is generally taken by the Parent Therapist with input and support from the Child Therapist.
4. Comprehensive Treatment Agreement
A comprehensive Treatment Agreement is reached with both parents, prior to any therapy being undertaken. This agreement becomes a key intervention tool. It establishes clear expectations for the family’s involvement with the Family Forward Program. For example, both parents agree that they cannot unilaterally withdraw from the Treatment Agreement. This work is intense, and it is not un-common for one of the parents to want to withdraw from continued involvement in therapy. When there is a Court Order supporting the family’s involvement in treatment, there is a foundation that provides the family an opportunity to work through intense stages of their therapeutic involvement. The therapeutic work in which one party cannot unilaterally withdraw may seem to be highly directive, however the consequences of families pre-maturely withdrawing can often be grave.
Additionally, the Treatment Agreement provides allowance to the clinical team to communicate with professionals working with the family and with legal counsel. Upon signing, parents agree that they understand that reports may be prepared and provided to the Court. The agreement establishes the involvement of the entire family as directed by the clinical team. It establishes criteria for what is billable and how the parents will share the cost of treatment. This creates an important level of transparency and clarity right from the beginning.
5. Individualized Case Plan and Rules of Engagement
After intake and prior to beginning the therapeutic aspect of the intervention, an individualized case plan is developed. This is a detailed, comprehensive plan that outlines the prescribed course of treatment.
In addition, Rules of Engagement are developed which further outlines the program’s expectations of how parents are to behave in front of the children and how they are to engage with each other during treatment.
This can prove to be overwhelming for parents as there is a lot of information to review, digest before treatment even begins. However, it is critically important. It provides clarity and transparency between the clinical team and the parents. They become important reference points as the family progresses through treatment.
6. Psychoeducational Component
There is a strong psychoeducational component when engaging with each family. Key psychoeducational subjects to be reviewed are described within the case plan. This has proven to be vital to the Program’s success. Common subject areas include: Attachment; Cost of High Conflict on Children; Effective Communication etc. The Program has developed resources and information sheets which are provided to parents and become important reference points throughout the Program.
7. Use of Minutes and Progress Reports
Minutes are usually written for sessions that involve more than one family member i.e. Joint Parent Sessions; Parent-Child Sessions; Family Sessions etc. These minutes are shared electronically with both parents. Where legal counsel is involved, minutes are shared with them as well. This becomes an important record that reflects what issues were discussed and highlights any agreements that were reached. These minutes can also be shared with the Courts if needed.
Progress Reports are created at critical points of the family’s involvement in treatment. Again, electronic copies are provided to both parents and their counsel.
The minutes provide an accountability for the clients and the therapists. The use of Minutes and Progress Reports are very effective in working with these types of High Conflict cases. This proves to be especially true should the case return to Court.
We have concluded that this type of comprehensive approach is necessary for treatment to be successful. These types of cases involve parents experiencing high conflict. All family members are experiencing high levels of distress/trauma. A structured team approach creates the optimum opportunity for therapists to assist families move forward. Although this work is challenging for the families and the therapists involved it is important work that allows the family to begin the healing process and provides foundations to support the long-term mental health and wellbeing of the children involved in the Program. I am proud to do this work and grateful for the opportunity to support families in moving forward to a better place.
Prepared by Robert H. Croezen, MSW, RSW in consultation with Alyson Jones, MA, RCC and Clinical Director of the Family Forward Program.