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There’s a big difference between the family model I’m discussing and “family values” as a political or social concept. The former is my attempt to describe the positive contributions a family makes to the life of a child. The latter is most often used to promote conservative ideology.

I don’t believe the family model is something that only exists in homes where there are two parents, 2.5 children, a dog, and a (hybrid) SUV in the garage.

The family model can exist in a number of different venues. There are group homes and transitional housing programs that operate like a family and provide much of what a healthy family provides. Conversely, there are families (natural and foster) that operate like an institution. If your parenting style is to expect very little from your children and not put up with any crap, congratulations, you’re acting like an institution.

I strongly dislike the institutional model because I believe it is designed for ease of operation (benefiting the operators) rather than it’s ability to achieve positive outcomes (benefiting the children). Put another way, it’s efficiency versus efficacy.

Healthy families are full of dichotomies. They are organized and messy. They are consistent and flexible. They spend time together but help meet each child’s individual needs. It’s difficult to operate programs in this way. It’s a constant balancing act. But the benefits to the young people are immeasurable (actually, they are measurable — but that’s a different blog).

To Reader Frank In SD: I’m sorry that you had negative experiences with social workers. A good social worker (and there ARE good ones out there) helps find the environment that works best for the young person. He or she is supposed to be your advocate and help you to stabilize in a place where you can flourish. Despite the challenges, it sounds like you flourished anyway. Congratulations on your academic achievements and your success in life.

— RICK NEWMYER

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