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Practice Model

The Intensive Family Support Service (IFSS) is an evidence-informed program. It involves a simple practice model comprising five stages of work with families:

  1. Engagement with the family
  2. Assessment
  3. Selection of priority areas of work (based on assessment)
  4. Development and implementation of the family support plan
  5. Exit and case closure.

The practice model is based on the following five theories.

1. Social learning theory

Social learning theory focuses on learning that occurs within a social context and suggests that people can learn by observing the actions of others, and witnessing the outcomes of these actions (Patterson, 1982). This theory highlights the reciprocal nature of interactions between parents and their children, as well as the wider environment within which they live. It emphasises the use of observation, imitation and modelling in behaviour change.

Social learning theory acknowledges that observation and learning alone do not necessarily lead to behaviour change. For change to occur, the following elements are also necessary:

  • Attention: that is, the learner’s attention must be directed toward the thing that is being taught.
  • Retention: the learner must be able to remember the behaviour they were being shown or observing to be able to reproduce that behaviour later.
  • Reproduction: the learner must be able to physically do the new behaviour they are learning.
  • Motivation: the learner must be willing to learn and demonstrate the new behaviour.

2. Behavioural theory and applied behaviour analysis

These theories inform the IFSS program by presenting a systematic method of supporting or encouraging behaviour change in participating families. In general, they suggest that a person’s behaviour can be influenced to change by identifying the steps involved in producing behaviour and then teaching or modifying these steps one at a time. The uptake of these new behaviours are influenced by the teaching method used (Taylor & Biglan, 1998).

3. Developmental theory

Developmental research has identified factors that either increase (risk factors) or decrease (protective factors) the likelihood of poor developmental outcomes in a child. The risk of children experiencing poor outcomes is reduced by teaching carers the skills to teach and encourage their children to use language, social skills, problem-solving skills, and to develop a range of other competencies in a supportive environment.

4. Social information processing models

Based on the work of Albert Bandura (1977, 1995), social information processing models highlight the importance of parental beliefs, attitudes and expectations in parenting behaviours. The IFSS program aims to help parents identify and modify how they think about what is happening in their relationships and interactions with their children and encourages them to think about other, more effective and appropriate ways to interact with their children which will lead to positive outcomes.

5. Social ecological theory

The social ecological theory highlights the impact and influence of the ecological systems around a child, i.e. parental, family, school, peers and community. Child maltreatment is seen as having multiple correlates within this social ecology of the child; effective intervention considers and selects targets within the child ecology and applies strategies most likely to produce improved behaviour change (Swenson & Chaffin, 2006).


Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Bandura, A. (1995). Social learning. In A. S. R. Manstead & M. Hewstone (Eds.), Blackwell encyclopedia of social psychology (pp. 600-606). Oxford: Blackwell.

Patterson, G.R. (1982). Coercive family process. Eugene, OR: Castalia.

Swenson, C.C. & Chaffin, M. (2006). Beyond psychotherapy: Treating abused children by changing their social ecology. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 11, 120–137.

Taylor, T.K., & Biglan, A. (1998). Behavioral family interventions for improving child-rearing: A review of the literature for clinicians and policy makers. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 1, 41-60.