The Evidence Portal

Family problem solving

Flexible activity

In this activity, families are taught problem solving skills to improve their ability to address issues that arise in their family (e.g. family conflict, finding needed services). 

Parents should be taught how to:

  • Define or explain problems (without blaming themselves or the child)
  • Find new ways to resolve problems
  • Evaluate possible consequences
  • Develop an action plan
  • Try to resolve the problem
  • Observe and evaluate the success of their efforts

Program facilitators use teaching materials and hands on training to help families identify problems and solve them in a healthy manner.

How can it be implemented?

Supporting families to develop problem-solving skills can be conducted in a number of different ways. The approach taken and the focus of this skill development should be tailored the family’s needs. You should use your professional judgement to determine what is most appropriate for your client/s.

Group sessions:

  • Sessions on family problem solving can be conducted in a group setting This can facilitate collaborative problem solving discussions and can support parents to develop social networks. 
  • Group programs typically run weekly for 8-20 weeks. Each session is about 2-3 hours in length. 

Home visits:

  • Sessions on family problem solving can be conducted in home visits with individual families.
  • Sessions typically run weekly, for 60-90 minutes.
  • Home visitation can last up to one 1 year. The length of the program should be based on client needs. 
  • Sessions can be conducted with all relevant family members (e.g. parents, grandparents, siblings etc.).

Developing problem solving skills can embedded throughout all home visits or group sessions. It may inform all the work that is undertaken with a family. You could also set aside specific sessions that focus on problem solving.

A combination of home visits and groups sessions can also be conducted. The structure of the program should depend on client needs. For example, a home visiting program could use group sessions to reinforce messages taught in home visits or to connect parents with other families. A group program could use home visits to follow up with families who require more assistance.  

Daily diary

Parents can complete a daily diary to record problems that arise in their family and how they responded to them. 

The diary entry should be discussed with a practitioner in regular home visits. Discuss the parents' response, provide constructive feedback and identify ways to improve.

What should I consider when working with Aboriginal people and communities?

  • Program/session facilitators should be Aboriginal practitioners where possible, or Aboriginal practitioners should be engaged and valued to provide information about community, cultural protocols and world views.
  • Be aware and respectful of relevant extended family and kinship structures when working with Aboriginal people.  Ensure that extended family is included in important meetings and in making important decisions (DCJ Practice Resource: Working with Aboriginal People).
  • See the Cultural Safety and Wellbeing Evidence Review for more information.

Who is the target group?

This flexible activity has been implemented with a number of different target groups. Key characteristics include:

  • Parents at high risk of child maltreatment, with children 12 years and under.
  • New or expecting parents at risk of child maltreatment
  • Parents with children under 12 years old
  • Parents with two or more risk factors for child maltreatment (e.g. family violence, substance misuse). 
  • Families in rural areas with multiple risk factors for child abuse and neglect

What programs conduct this activity?

  • The Hawaii Healthy Start program - Enhanced with cognitive appraisal assists parents to become competent and independent problem solvers. Parents are taught to explain problems and find ways to resolve those problems. 
  • In the Healthy Families America Program, home visitors build the problem solving skills of families. 
  • In the Incredible Years program, parents participate in weekly group sessions. These sessions teach parents to problem solve different parenting issues (e.g. child discipline). Parents are supported to define their own goals and identify principles of behaviours to help them reach those goals. 
  • The New Zealand Early Start home visiting program adopts a collaborative problem solving approach to devise solutions to family challenges. Clients are actively involved in problem solving and are provided with support to implement their own solutions. 
  • In the Parent aide and case management program, home visitors provide parents with problem-solving support, such as thinking through how to address extended family conflicts or how to access local public services. 
  • In the Safecare+ a structured problem-solving process is used to teach parents to solve many difficulties. 
  • In the Parental Daily Diary, parents participate in weekly group sessions. These sessions teach parents to problem solve and suggest the use of multiple techniques to deal with difficult to resolve child problems (drawn both from current and previous group experiences). 

What else should I consider?

Reduction in barriers to attendance: Attending sessions out of the home can be low for some programs due to psychological and logistical barriers for parents (e.g. childcare and transportation). To address these issues, service providers should consider providing day care, dinners, flexible evening hours, make- up sessions or delivering sessions in convenient locations (e.g. local school or preschool children attend).

Further resources

Last updated:

20 Feb 2023

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We acknowledge Aboriginal people as the First Nations Peoples of NSW and pay our respects to Elders past, present, and future. 

Informed by lessons of the past, Department of Communities and Justice is improving how we work with Aboriginal people and communities. We listen and learn from the knowledge, strength and resilience of Stolen Generations Survivors, Aboriginal Elders and Aboriginal communities.

You can access our apology to the Stolen Generations.

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