Defining Family



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Module 1:

  • This module is intended to set the stage for a personal reflection on what the meaning of family and family support is to you. Many of us think of family as either that which we experienced personally or that which the media portray. There is a variety of theoretical approaches to understanding families discussing social justice, class, gender, power and inequality, however, for this module the Ecological approach is introduced. Whatever perspective we have, we may unknowingly be limiting our knowledge base with respect to the diversity of family forms. In Family Support practice, values are an explicit part of the work, and awareness of the diversity of family forms can strengthen the quality of services we provide.

Defining Family:

  • There is no "right" definition of family. Statistics Canada, for the census, defines the family by focusing on structural aspects such as location of residence ("....living in the same dwelling" Statistics Canada)

  • The 2006 definition of family as identified by the Vanier Institute(Opens new window) suggest that families exist according to what they do.

  • ...any combination of two or more persons who are bound together over time by ties of mutual consent, birth and/or adoption or placement and who, together, assume responsibilities for variant combinations of some of the following:

  • Physical maintenance and care of group members

  • Addition of new members through procreation or adoption

  • Socialization of children

  • Social control of members

  • Production, consumption, distribution of goods and services, and

  • Affective nurturance — love

  • In your course readings you will find outlined a number of different definitions of family.

  • As identified in the publication of Profiling Canada's Families III distributed by the Vanier Institute (Sauve, 2004), we know that fewer couples are getting legally married, multiple-earner families have become the norm, families are getting smaller and family violence is underreported. What does this mean for how we define the concept of "Family"? The recognition that families are diverse entities with multiple and shifting identities has received greater attention. The legalization of same-sex marriage has contributed to greater awareness of the multiple forms of "Family." However, until the 2001 Canadian census, information regarding gay/lesbian couple status was not asked. It is now recognized that multiple forms of families exist, including blended families, single parent families and families headed by gay/lesbian singles & couples.

Ecological Systems Theory:

  • In the footsteps of the African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child.”; we will explore what is takes to teach the villagers to raise children, families and strong communities.

  • As Urie Bronfenbrenner (1979) introduced to us in his book The Ecology of Human Development , the ecological approach to working with families includes the child at the centre, with the family as the most important factor; early education and care, community services and health care are all inter-related and important components in healthy development.

  • Here is a complete description and diagram of the Ecological Model (PDF).

  • The ecological perspective considers the broader context of family issues, such as societal norms, social and economic policies/laws, and public perception of each issue. In the background readings, Shimoni and Baxter (2008) summarize the basic ecological structures of micro-, meso-, exo- and macro-systems and discuss the application of the ecological model.

  • The ideal goal is to establish systems that are well-organized and have norms, policies and views that promote equity and social justice. A vision of social justice celebrates diversity; eliminates systemic discrimination, ensures dignity and values the self-worth of individuals.

  • This ideal means that family issues must be examined not only regarding the impact they have on individual family members, but also regarding the impact they have on families in society. Society, communities, organizations and networks all have an impact on individuals and families, and family life reciprocally influences the whole environment.







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