Family Professional Partnerships

father and two sonsWhat are partnerships?

A partnership is a relationship between individuals or groups that is characterized by mutual cooperation and responsibility for the achievement of a specified goal. Partnerships have been used as successful models in many disciplines. In health care, evidence has shown that strong doctor-patient relationships improve patient and family health outcomes1. Key to such partnerships are the following principles2:

  • 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.

Why are Family/Professional Partnerships Important in Health Care?

Effective partnerships between families and professionals are the foundation of family-centered care.

As articulated in the MCHB definition and principles of family centered care, effective family professional partnerships mean that 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. Professionals and families respect the skills and expertise that they each bring to the relationship and build a trusting relationship. Communication and information is shared openly and objectively. Families and professionals make decisions together and negotiate effectively when needed.  Studies show that when families and professionals make decisions together, health care improves. 

How do Families Partner to Improve Care for CYSHCN?

Partnering with your child's provider: As your child's most consistent caregiver, you know your child with special health care needs in ways that no one else can, and you have the most vested interest in ensuring that your child's health care needs are met. Your perspective on when something is wrong or how a treatment or medication is working is essential to the providers who treat your child.  Communication is critical to developing a partnership with your child's provider. To learn more about working with your child's provider, please read Partnering with Your Child's Provider.

Partnering with health plans: The financing of health care for most children with special health care needs is provided by managed care plans, which by definition, control access to services and programs.  Just as you do with your child's provider, you can help managed care plans to understand what works well and what doesn't with their programs and policies.  Many managed care plans work with family advisors to learn more about the populations they serve.  To learn more about working with your child's health plan, please read Parent's Partnering with Your Child's Health Plan.

Partnering with Title V: Federal health care programs such as Medicaid are administered by state Title V departments and partnership roles for families are often included in these programs to ensure the family perspective. Families in these roles are critical to helping our government understand our needs in caring for our children with special health care needs. Click here to learn more about working with Title V.


Partnering with Programs and Agencies: Other stakeholder groups contribute to the setting of policies that affect children/youth with special health care needs.  This 1-pager, Family Professional Partnerships Within Programs And Agencies: Family Perspectives On Lessons Learned, provides specific tips from experienced family leaders in such areas as building relationships, exchanging information, overcoming challenges, and more.

Partnering with other family leaders: In advocating for their child, many parents have learned the importance and value of speaking out for larger systems change.  Advocacy groups, whether disability-specific or broader (such as Family Voices), arose because a few individuals wanted a better life for their child and believed they could make a difference.  By joining your voice with others, your message is stronger.  To learn more about working with other family leaders, read Guidelines for Organizing or contact a Family-to-Family Health Information Center in your state.

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