Knowledge and Practice

Practices in working with vulnerable children and young people, their families and whānau evolve over time informed from a range of sources.  Frameworks that support good practice need to be responsive to cultural imperatives, underpinned by strong ethical values and informed by quality research.

Pathways to Resilience Research

The Pathways to Resilience Project is a 6 year (2007-2015), 5 country study associated with the Resilience Research Centre in Canada. The New Zealand project is based at Massey University led by Robyn Munford & Jackie Sanders from the School of Health & Social Services.

The study sought to better understand how youth navigate between mandated services (child welfare, alternative education, mental health, & youth justice) to successful outcomes. There was a particular interest in understanding the way that involvement with these services influences outcomes for youth exposed to large amounts of risk, who face complex challenges or who come to attention because of chronic abuse & neglect.

The study has identified the practice, services & strategies that are successful in assisting young people to achieve positive outcomes in their lives. 

Who were the young people?

The study population was composed of three different groups drawn from six areas in New Zealand (the Auckland metropolitan area, Palmerston North/Manawatu, Kāpiti/Horowhenua, Greater Welling­ton, Christchurch and Otago during 2009-2010).

  1. A group of 605 multiple service using youth (MSU) – either concurrently using two or more services or having used two services in the past six months
  2. A comparison group (CG) of 605 youth on a more or less normative development pathway, who were using one or no services
  3. A group of persons most knowledgeable (PMK) nominated by the MSU youth as being the adult who knew the most about them at the time of the interview.

The services were: youth justice, child welfare, alternative or special education services or mental health services. These services could be provided by either a statutory organisation or an NGO providing services under contract to government.

MSU youth were recruited from organisations that provided formal support services to youth and CG youth were recruited from schools, community programmes and organisations located in the communities from which the MSU youth were drawn.

They were all aged 12-17, half Maori (48%), a third Pākehā (31%), one fifth Pacific (18%) & more than half male (63%). After being matched for age, gender & ethnicity they compromised 2 equal groups:

The two groups came from very different living situations, & had very different school & other service experiences.
Young people with higher risk tend to have inconsistent or negative service experiences.
Young people with higher resilience tend to have consistently positive service experiences.

Some of the findings

The quality of interactions practitioners have with youth matter more to outcomes that the number of interventions. High quality relationships build resilience & this produces better outcomes. Relational practices that include genuine warmth, kindness & positive regard build capacity in young people. The more that services work in these ways with youth the better the outcome.

Specific practices that are important:
  • Youth are given clear information about services & interventions
  • Encourage youth decision-making & meaningful involvement that help build agency
  • Services & interventions are relevant & demonstrate understanding of the challenges youth face
  • Identify & build positive resources & relationships in youth lives
  • Respect youth culture & meaning systems & incorporate cultural practices into interventions
  • Allow sufficient time to build relationships
  • Avoid episodic responses to crises that are embedded in longer-term chronic issues
  • Create opportunities that support the development of positive identities
  • Introduce safe adults who make an ongoing commitment to the young person
  • Interventions respond to practical & emotional needs
  • Build positive relationships with other practitioners while maintaining focus on needs of youth

PARTH - a model of effective practice with young people

From the Pathways to Resilience research a model of effectice practice has been identified - these are the aspects that the research identified made the difference for young people building their resilience and producing better outcomes.

P = Perseverance, Persistence and Perspective

  • understanding how risk, context & resilience shape youth behaviours
  • focus on youth and be an advocate for youth
  • commit to staying the distance through difficult times & support youth to realise their aspirations
  • maintain positive youth development and strengths perspective
  • commit to effective collaboration in work.

A = Adaptability, Agency/Empowerment, Action-oriented

  • look for alternatives, reflect on what you are doing that works & what doesn’t & change what doesn’t
  • adapt practice to enable youth to test out new skills & support them to remain engaged in interventions
  • encourage agency & empowerment in youth – joint approach to solution finding brings best results
  • ensure assessments lead to delivery of services
  • make things happen for youth, achieve plans and include practical as well as emotional interventions.

R = Relationships, Relevant, Responsive, Recognises context

  • relational practice, focus on building relationships with youth, demonstrate caring & value
  • affirm youth strengths & coping strategies
  • avoid reactive responses – episodic interventions in situations of chronic need increase risk and undermine capacity to achieve good outcomes
  • ecological interventions work best because they take account of the complexity of the challenges.

T = Time, Transparency, Thresholds, Transitions

  • quality & quantity, length of interventions will vary depending on youth need
  • look for critical teaching moment
  • take time to plan for positive encounters with youth & time to reflect on own practice
  • ensure youth understand the how and why of decisions
  • threshold and entry criteria often mean that interventions do not happen until too much damage has been done –adaptability and agility is important
  • manage transitions within, between and from services carefully.

H = Honesty, Humility, Hope

  • does what they say they will do and are honest about limitations to what can be done
  • keeps youth informed
  • works with humility – recognition that if practitioner was in youth shoes they might make the same choices
  • hold hope for youth – a vision for the future based on this young person’s qualities and abilities.

Child, Youth and Family Practice Frameworks

Practice is informed by multiple sources of knowledge. Our Practice frameworks, in care and protection, youth justice, adoptions and residences, provide a high level picture of Child, Youth and Family’s approach to social work practice. They are based on empirical research, ethical principles, natural justice and human rights, clarifying and reinforcing practice behaviours that support good outcomes for children and their families. Each framework identifies key practice perspectives and weaves them through the phases of the respective processes:

Care and protection

  • Key practice perspectives: child-centred; family-led and culturally responsive; and strengths and evidence-based.
  • Key phases: engagement and assessment; seeking solutions; and securing safety and belonging.

Youth justice

  • Key practice perspectives: justice and accountability focused, young person-focused; family-led and culturally responsive; and strengths and evidence-based.
  • Key phases: engagement and assessment; seeking solutions- the family group conference; and changing behaviour and enhancing wellbeing.


  • Key practice perspectives: child-centred; family and culturally responsive; and strengths and evidence-based.
  • Key phases: engagement and education; decision making and assessment; and belonging.


  • Key practice perspectives: young person-focused; family-led and culturally responsive; and strengths and evidence-based.
  • Key phases: engagement, assessment and planning; changing behaviour and supporting wellbeing; and reintegration. and preparing for the future.

The metaphor used to describe the interwoven nature of the framework is a kete – a basket of knowledge when woven together makes our practice strong.


In essence, the Practice Frameworks articulate ethically-informed practice that supports strong engagement with families, harnesses the strengths of the child’s extended family system, reinforces longer term safety and belonging for the child or young person and ensures a justice accountability within youth justice. It sets a standard for service delivery providing a high level vision of practice that the organisation wants to see across Child, Youth and Family.  

For more detailed discussion of the New Zealand Practice Framework see:

Connolly, M. (2007). Practice frameworks: Conceptual maps to guide interventions in child welfare. British Journal of Social Work, 37 (5) 825-837.

For a discussion of practice frameworks more broadly see:

Connolly, M. & Healy, K. (2009). Social work practice theories and frameworks. Chapter 2, pp. 19-36, in Social Work: Contexts and Practice (M. Connolly & L. Harms eds). Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

Child, Youth and Family Practice Package: How we work with children and young people

Introduced on National Social Workers Day on 22 September 2010, Our Practice Package represents the next step in strengthening our practice and our focus on practice depth. It is a visual prompt that outlines the practice priorities when working with children and young people.

Our Practice Package provides some links to key information in the Practice Centre, and works on the basis of knowledge leading to action.

Our Practice Package also highlights developmental milestones of the children and young people we work with, and provides guidance on what social workers can do to engage with them.