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Supporting Families

What is a systemic approach?

So far we have explored children’s mental health in relation to the individual and how they can be supported. We are now widening the lens to think about other important considerations when working with children and young people. A systemic approach argues that we not only need to focus on the child but also what is going on around them. A systemic approach is defined as:

…a way of acting, thinking and viewing the world, which focuses on relationships and recognises that individuals are always embedded in their social context.

Hardy (2018)

In the reading below Hardy expands on this definition as she introduces the importance of using systemic ideas when working to support children and young people.

Ruth Hardy (2018)


This may be particularly relevant when working in the capacity of social work or family therapy where the focus is not only on the individual child but the system around them. So what might this look like in practice? The following report outlines the learning from the Department for Education’s Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme.

Department for Education

‘The approaches with the best evidence of positive impact are based on systemic theoretical models, where children and families are viewed as part of a wider set of systems and relationships.’


So why is the engagement of families so important when working to support children and young people?

Systemic models of thinking such as the Bowen Family System Theory helps us to view the family as an emotional unit with complex interactions taking place. Learn more by watching this video:

So we can see how individuals may interact and impact each other in a family which highlights why this is an important consideration when working to support the mental health of children and young people.

How does this learning around systemic practice influence your ideas around how best to promote good mental health in children and young people?

  • How can whole family systems be taken into consideration when supporting children & young people?
  • Research & reflect on how parents & carers could be engaged to be part of the solution when working with children & young people’s mental health.
  • Think about how parents & carers could be involved in the design and delivery of mental health provision. What could this look like?


Sometimes the mental health needs of a child or young person will require specialised support.

A common referral will be to the NHS-provided service of CAMHS which stands for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service. CAMHS offer assessment and support to children, young people and their families with emotional, behaviour and mental health difficulties. However, in the Early Years families can also access support through:

  • Health Visitor
  • Family Hubs
  • Charities