Family-Centered Care


What is family-centered care?

Health care visits for children youth and their families can be more than getting shots, having ears examined or getting treatment for the physical symptoms of an illness.  During visits and in all forms of communication, families, youth and health care providers who build effective and trusting partnerships based on an understanding and respect for the needs of the family and child/youth create family-centered care. Such strong partnerships ensure that a child/youth receives the highest quality of health care. See a definition of family-centered care, below.



an extended familyWhere did the ideas for family-centered care come from?

The concepts of “family-centered care” were first articulated by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau, Division of Services for Children with Special Health Needs.  A definition and set of principles of family-centered care were created in 1995 by a team of family leaders and professionals under the guidance of MCHB.  The principles of family-centered care are now widely discussed in relation to both child and adult health care (where the ideas are referred to as “patient-centered care” ). These concepts are important in measuring whether health care is high quality.



Definition of Family-Centered Care

Family-Centered Care assures the health and well-being of children and their families through a respectful family-professional partnership. It honors the strengths, cultures, traditions and expertise that everyone brings to this relationship. Family-Centered Care is the standard of practice which results in high quality services.

See Maternal and Child Health Bureau, Division of Services for Children With Special Health Care Needs. Definition and principles of family-centered care for children.


Principles of Family-Centered Care for Children

The foundation of family-centered care is the partnership between families and professionals. Key to this partnership are the following principles:

  • Families and professionals work together in the best interest of the child and the family. As the child grows, s/he assumes a partnership role.
  • Everyone respects the skills and expertise brought to the relationship.
  • Trust is acknowledged as fundamental.
  • Communication and information sharing are open and objective.
  • Participants make decisions together.
  • There is a willingness to negotiate.


Based on this partnership, family-centered care:

  1. Acknowledges the family as the constant in a child’s life.
  2.  Builds on family strengths.
  3. Supports the child in learning about and participating in his/her care and decision-making.
  4. Honors cultural diversity and family traditions.
  5. Recognizes the importance of community-based services.
  6.  Promotes an individual and developmental approach.
  7.  Encourages family-to-family and peer support.
  8. Supports youth as they transition to adulthood.
  9. Develops policies, practices, and systems that are family-friendly and family-centered in all settings.
  10. Celebrates successes.
See Maternal and Child Health Bureau, Division of Services for Children With Special Health Care Needs. Definition and principles of family-centered care for children.


What is a definition of family?

Families define themselves. The following definition was developed in New Mexico, and has been widely used to define a family.

Families are big, small, extended, nuclear, multi-generational, with one parent, two parents, and grandparents. We live under one roof or many. A family can be as temporary as a few weeks, as permanent as forever. We become part of a family by birth, adoption, marriage, or from a desire for mutual support. As family members, we nurture, protect, and influence each other. Families are dynamic and are cultures unto themselves, with different values and unique ways of realizing dreams. Together, our families become the source of our rich cultural heritage and spiritual diversity. Each family has strengths and qualities that flow from individual members and from the family as a unit. Our families create neighborhoods, communities, states, and nations.

Developed and adopted by the New Mexico Legislative Young Children’s Continuum and New Mexico Coalition for Children, June 1990.


Pediatric Family-Centered Interventions and Practices*

  1. Respecting each child and his or her family
  2. Honoring racial ethnic cultural and socioeconomic diversity and its effect on the family's experience and perception of care
  3. Recognizing and building on the strengths of each child and family even in difficult and challenging situations
  4. Supporting and facilitating choice for the child and family about approaches to care and support
  5. Ensuring flexibility in organizational policies procedures and provider practices so services can be tailored to the needs beliefs and cultural values of each child and family
  6. Sharing honest and unbiased information with families on an ongoing basis and in ways they find useful and affirming
  7. Providing and/or ensuring formal and informal support (e.g. family-to-family support) for the child and parent(s) and/or guardian(s) during pregnancy childbirth infancy childhood adolescence and young adulthood
  8. Collaborating with families at all levels of health care in the care of the individual child and in professional education policy making and program development
  9. Empowering each child and family to discover their own strengths build confidence and make choices and decisions about their health


Benefits of Family-Centered Care to Families*

  • Decreased anxiety
  • Accelerated recovery time
  • Reduced crying and restlessness
  • Decreased emotional distress with better coping during procedures hospitalization posthospital period and recovery
  • Increased parent confidence and problem-solving capacity
  • Improved mental health status of mothers of children with chronic illness


Benefits of Family-Centered Care to Hospitals/Clinics*

  • Improved hospital patient and family satisfaction scores
  • Improvement on standardized measure of medical home implementation
  • Improved staff satisfaction


Benefits of Family-Centered Care to Pediatricians*

  • A stronger alliance with the family in promoting each child's health and development
  • Improved clinical decision making on the basis of better information and collaborative processes
  • Improved follow-through when the plan of care is developed collaboratively with families
  • Greater understanding of the family's strengths and caregiving capacities
  • More efficient and effective use of professional time and health care resources (e.g. more care managed at home decrease in unnecessary hospitalizations and emergency department visits more effective use of preventive care)
  • Improved communication among members of the health care team
  • A more competitive position in the health care marketplace
  • An enhanced learning environment for future pediatricians and other professionals in training
  • A practice environment that enhances professional satisfaction
  • Greater child and family satisfaction with their health care

*Source: Family-centered care and the pediatrician's role. Pediatrics 2003 Sep;112(3 Pt 1):691-6. [40 references].  From on 6/3/2011.