Special Issue "Understanding and Supporting 'Families with Complex Needs'"


A special issue of Social Sciences (ISSN 2076-0760).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (1 December 2014)

Special Issue Editors

Guest Editor
Dr. Nathan Hughes

1 School of Social Policy, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK
2 Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, Flemington Road, Parkville, Melbourne, 3010, Australia
3 School of Government, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria, 3010, Australia
Website: http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/research/activity/social-policy/families-policy-practice/research/supporting-families.aspx
Interests: family-minded policy and practice; youth crime and youth justice policy; neurodisability
Guest Editor
Dr. Carolina Munoz-Guzman

School of Social Work, Universidad Católica de Chile, Av. Vicuña Mackenna 4860, Metro San Joaquín, Chile
Website: http://www6.uc.cl/trabajosocial/site/edic/base/port/autoridades.php
Fax: +56-2-23544669
Interests: social policies and programs for families and children; child labour; social work education

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Family forms are many and varied, reflecting a myriad of understandings and influencing factors. In any given cultural context, normative notions of family structure, such as the ‘nuclear family’, may not therefore reflect the reality of family life, experiences and functions, as described and articulated by families themselves; particularly those from minority or marginalized communities. Despite this complexity and perpetual change, the importance of family for the experience of both interdependence and individual support and well-being remains constant. This is particularly the case for ‘families with complex needs’, who experience both a ‘breadth’ of ‘interrelated or interconnected’ needs and a ‘depth’ of ‘profound, severe, serious or intense needs’ (Rankin and Regan, 2004), and are therefore most reliant on services and support. This might include families affected by mental health needs, disability, caring responsibilities, migration and asylum seeking, criminal behavior, drug and alcohol misuse, and so on.

The increasing complexity of family life, alongside the continued important and complex role played by family in supporting members with particular needs, poses a range of challenges for services seeking to engage with families, particularly those with complex needs. For family-focused services to deliver effectively, the complexity of family roles, functions, and compositions therefore need to be examined and understood. Failure to recognize the structure, role and function of various family relationships may lead to ineffective service provision or a resistance to engage in support by the family. Nonetheless, there is significant evidence that existing policy and service provision finds ‘thinking family’ both challenging and controversial, with clear implications for professional knowledge and frameworks, training, practices, and the design and delivery of interventions. In particular it may affect relationships with families as ‘service users’, and ultimately the arrival at shared objectives.

This Special Issue will therefore consider how 'families with complex needs' form and experience contemporary life, and how such understandings might inform policy and practice responses.  Papers will compare the theorization of families in the context of service provision and policy, examining how the notion of 'needs' is constructed and considered within various nation states, and which families or family forms are subsequently constructed as a 'public concern'.

Previous research has identified a typology of family-focused services that includes those that work with the family to support the service user, those that address the needs of family members so as to enable them to support a primary service user within the family, and an emerging category of ‘whole family approaches’ that uniquely emphasize shared needs, strengths or risk factors that could not be dealt with through a focus on family members as individuals (Hughes, 2010). Whilst often still small-scale and ‘innovative’, there is emerging evidence that such approaches may be effective in engaging families with complex needs (Morris et al., 2008).

This Special Issue will therefore also explore and compare the models and approaches to family-based service provision evident in different nation states; in particular, emerging ‘whole family approaches’ will be considered and, where possible, compared to other forms of provision. The tensions and contradictions in implementing such approaches in relation to particular complex needs will be considered.

To address this set of issues, the European Union funded an ‘international research staff exchange scheme’ enabling collaboration between research groups across Europe and Latin America. Research exchanges supported case studies and comparative research addressing one or more of the above themes. This Special Issue will therefore include a number of papers based on research undertaken as part of this project and network.

Dr. Nathan Hughes
Dr. Carolina Munoz-Guzman
Guest Editors


Clarke, H., and Hughes, N. “Introduction: Family Minded Policy and Whole Family Practice – Developing a Critical Research Framework.” Social Policy and Society 9, no. 4 (2010): 545–56.
Gillies, V. Family and Intimate Relationships: A Review of the Sociological Research. Families & Social Capital ESRC Research Group. London: South Bank University, 2003.
Hughes, N. “Models and approaches to family-focused policy and practice.” Social Policy and Society 9, no. 4 (2010): 527–32.
Jelin, E. Las familias Latinoamericanas en el marco de las transformaciones globales: Hacia una nueva agenda de políticas públicas. CEPAL, Santiago Chile, 2005.
Mauras, M. La familia y las políticas públicas: Hacia una “sociedad de redes”. CEPAL, Santiago Chile, 2005.
Morris, K. “Troubled families: vulnerable families’ experiences of multiple service use.” Child and Family Social Work 18, no. 2 (2013): 198–206.
Morris, K., Hughes, N., Clarke, H et al. Think Family: A Literature Review of Whole Family Approaches. London: Cabinet Office, 2008. ISBN: 0711504814.
Rankin, J., and Regan, S. Meeting Complex Needs: The Future of Social Care. London: Turning Point, 2004.
Tamaso Mioto, R., Silva Campos, M., and Sasso de Lima; T. Quem cobre as insuficiências das políticas públicas? Contribuição ao debate sobre o papel da família na provisão de bem-estar social. En El libro: Prácticas pedagógicas y modalidades de supervisión en el área de familia, 2008.
Williams, F. Rethinking Families. London: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, 2004.


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  • families with complex needs
  • whole family approaches
  • comparative social policy

Published Papers (11 papers)

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Displaying article 1-11
p. 1335-1339
by  and
Soc. Sci. 2015, 4(4), 1335-1339; doi:10.3390/socsci4041335
Received: 30 November 2015 / Accepted: 9 December 2015 / Published: 15 December 2015
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p. 1243-1268
by  and
Soc. Sci. 2015, 4(4), 1243-1268; doi:10.3390/socsci4041243
Received: 28 October 2015 / Revised: 20 November 2015 / Accepted: 26 November 2015 / Published: 4 December 2015
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p. 459-468
by , , , , ,  and
Soc. Sci. 2015, 4(2), 459-468; doi:10.3390/socsci4020459
Received: 27 November 2014 / Revised: 14 May 2015 / Accepted: 16 June 2015 / Published: 23 June 2015
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p. 393-420
Soc. Sci. 2015, 4(2), 393-420; doi:10.3390/socsci4020393
Received: 5 December 2014 / Revised: 10 May 2015 / Accepted: 18 May 2015 / Published: 22 May 2015
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p. 294-312
Soc. Sci. 2015, 4(2), 294-312; doi:10.3390/socsci4020294
Received: 14 December 2014 / Revised: 8 April 2015 / Accepted: 9 April 2015 / Published: 21 April 2015
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p. 276-293
by  and
Soc. Sci. 2015, 4(2), 276-293; doi:10.3390/socsci4020276
Received: 24 November 2014 / Revised: 30 March 2015 / Accepted: 30 March 2015 / Published: 8 April 2015
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p. 260-275
Soc. Sci. 2015, 4(2), 260-275; doi:10.3390/socsci4020260
Received: 10 December 2014 / Revised: 19 March 2015 / Accepted: 23 March 2015 / Published: 1 April 2015
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p. 239-259
Soc. Sci. 2015, 4(1), 239-259; doi:10.3390/socsci4010239
Received: 10 December 2014 / Revised: 10 March 2015 / Accepted: 11 March 2015 / Published: 23 March 2015
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p. 219-238
by , ,  and
Soc. Sci. 2015, 4(1), 219-238; doi:10.3390/socsci4010219
Received: 13 December 2014 / Revised: 10 February 2015 / Accepted: 12 February 2015 / Published: 13 March 2015
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p. 134-147
Soc. Sci. 2015, 4(1), 134-147; doi:10.3390/socsci4010134
Received: 11 December 2014 / Accepted: 29 January 2015 / Published: 9 February 2015
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p. 117-133
by ,  and
Soc. Sci. 2015, 4(1), 117-133; doi:10.3390/socsci4010117
Received: 28 November 2014 / Revised: 22 January 2015 / Accepted: 30 January 2015 / Published: 5 February 2015
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Last update: 16 June 2014

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