The use of genograms during initial investigation is invaluable in clarifying and documenting family relationships and may assist in identifying gaps in our knowledge about a child’s family. Completing a genogram with the family can be an effective strategy for engaging the family in the assessment process.
Timing and purpose
The child protection practitioner should create a genogram during the initial investigation. This should include as much information as is available, including immediate and extended family members. Genograms for some children may also include people significant to the child who may not be biologically related. At times it may be difficult to understand where and how everyone fits into the family networks. Family relationships can be documented by drawing a genogram, a picture that captures the relationships and boundaries that characterise the family.
The genogram provides a visual representation of the child’s current and extended family and kinship system, helping practitioners and families by:
- identifying intergenerational family patterns and roles
- compiling a chronology of important family events
- providing a multigenerational context for exploring family problems.
Genograms are beneficial in identifying placement options within a family when a child is in need of alternative care and can also highlight gaps in knowledge about the family.
Once all available information has been mapped, the child protection practitioner can gather additional information to complete the picture.
Following substantiation, genograms should be reviewed regularly with the family and at key decision points, for example during case plan or AFLDM meetings, where extended family and other significant people from the child’s support network may be present to assist in creating a more complete picture. A genogram is required where protective concerns are substantiated. Genograms support case planning, protective intervention, the development of cultural plans, connection to culture, identity development and legal intervention.
The genogram should be re-visited at key decision making points, notably at substantiation, commencement of Children’s Court activity, upon the making of a Children’s Court Order and at each annual case plan review and at termination of an Children’s Court Order or case closure.
Engaging the family in the process
- Drawing the genogram together with a child and family can provide an opportunity for them to tell their family story. It is easy to miss an opportunity to connect with a person when one is involved in taking notes to record an interview. Sitting around a table involving the whole family in drawing a genogram may be less alienating and more inclusive.
It is important to remain respectful, culturally sensitive and aware of reasons why a child or family may not know a lot of information about their family. Many Aboriginal families have histories involving Stolen Generations and for many Aboriginal families talking about people who have died can be difficult. Encouraging or supporting Aboriginal families to engage with services such as Link Up may help them learn more about their heritage.
- The family can see diagrammatically what their family looks like and can participate in mapping the family history, patterns of relationships, and the familial support systems they can access.
- Family members may not all be present when a genogram is being developed. It is important to check and confirm the genogram with all key family members especially the child’s parents.
- When it is not practicable to engage the whole family in completing a genogram during the initial investigation, the practitioner should draw a genogram to inform their assessment, and seek to confirm the genogram as soon as possible as well as finding an opportunity to create a genogram with the family at a later stage (including both maternal and paternal family members).
- Genograms can significantly contribute to the practitioner’s knowledge of the family and should be used to establish the importance of particular family members to the child, who is able to take a helping role within the family and so on. It is important to frame the process in strength-based language.
How to draw a genogram
Use the endorsed genogram software program, available on practitioner ultrabooks (or designated desktops in child protection offices), to prepare the genogram wherever possible. See Genogram program user guide (pdf, 564.9 KB).
If preparing a draft by hand, use the genogram symbols from the software, as this allows for clear interpretation by other practitioners and the Court. If any other symbols are used a note or key should be included to explain their meaning.
When completing a genogram with a family the child protection practitioner should provide a clear explanation of the purpose, process and symbols to the family.
Creating a genogram involves three steps:
- Map the family structure - detailing all known family members. Aim to complete this to at least three generations where possible.
- Record family information - dates of birth and death, significant other dates, cultural information including if a child and family members are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
- Delineate family relationships - recording strong family bonds or family conflict or estranged relationships.
The standard genogram symbols are used to lay out the family structure. Other symbols may then be added to describe the quality of relationships, where relevant.
Practitioners may choose to develop more detailed and complex genograms at times, for example, mapping protective concerns, perpetrators, intergenerational issues, child protection involvement, CRIS numbers etc. These can be used in supervision and consultations with internal staff such as practice leaders and principal practitioners, as a tool to aid assessment. These versions, however, while a useful representation for practitioners, are not to be provided to families or with court reports. These should be recorded on CRIS with a file name that clearly identifies that they are not for distribution.
Involving the family
- Sitting with a family as you draw a genogram provides an opportunity to demonstrate quite powerfully your interest in all aspects of the child's family and your respect for their greater knowledge of themselves and how relationships work in their family.
- It allows you to gather an extensive amount of information very efficiently and will also identify for you, and perhaps for the family, gaps in knowledge or understanding. It may highlight parts of the family about which little or nothing is known, or where there is conflict or estrangement.
- A genogram may include a chronology of important family events, and information about ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds, occupation, losses, family migrations, identifying intergenerational family patterns and roles. It can provide a multigenerational context for exploring family problems.
- It may be appropriate to engage a local family finding program, ACSASS or local ACCO to gather more complete information for the genogram for an Aboriginal child.