ChildForum Early Childhood Education Nationwide Network
Promoting quality, valuing knowledge, advancing thinking and working together for the benefit of children, services and the sector

Follow us on FacebookFollow us on Twitteryoutube

Member Login

Members-only information & support area. Research Library


Working with vulnerable families and children

Full reference
Fenton, A. & McFarland, L. (2018). Building early childhood educators’ capacity to apply a strengths approach to working with vulnerable families and children. NZ International Research in Early Childhood Education Journal, 21(2), 19-31. Retrieved from https://www.childforum.com/research/2018-issue2-nz-international-research-ece-journal/1609-working-with-vulnerable-families-children.html 

PDF copies of articles are available for personal use - go to the ChildForum Store page 

NZ Int Reseach ECE journal pic

Original Research Paper
© ChildForum

Building early childhood educators’ capacity to apply a strengths approach to working with vulnerable families and children

Angela Fenton and Laura McFarland
Charles Sturt University, Australia


This paper investigates the use of a strengths approach by early childhood educators when working with vulnerable children and families. The paper examines existing strengths approach literature and research and draws on findings from an evaluation of a small-scale project to implement a strengths approach to working with children and families within a regional Australian early childhood service. The project included theoretical development aimed to clearly define and introduce the strengths approach and modelling of a range of practical strategies for addressing complex issues. Survey and EView (electronic interview) findings revealed that at this localised level, educators felt positive about using explicit and implicit strengths approach strategies in their work with children and families. Factors reported as being important to implementation were a “mind-shift” about working with families; noticing an implicit strengths approach; and acknowledgement of “human resources” as well as physical resources. Participants reported that continued development and connections with community agencies would help to sustain their use of a strengths approach. The findings from the nuanced study were supported by the wider review of existing literature and together provide positive encouragement for further in-depth research regarding the use of strengths approaches in early childhood contexts.

Key words: Strengths based approach, vulnerable children, teacher practice, evaluation.



McCashen (2005) defines a strengths approach as “a philosophy for working with people to bring about change … [that] acknowledges and addresses power imbalances between people working in human services” (p. v). Historically, strengths approaches and perspectives (the terms being used interchangeably) emerged in the United States from social services, therapeutic and psychology disciplines, where practitioners reported success when using the approach with complex issues such as family trauma and child abuse (Glicken, 2004; Saleebey, 2009). Internationally, early childhood practitioners work with children and families with similar complex needs on a daily basis and a strengths approach is increasingly promoted for use in Australian and New Zealand early childhood educational contexts (Ministry of Education, 2017). However, research on how a strengths approach can be defined and applied in early childhood contexts is limited (Fenton, MacDonald & McFarland, 2016; Fenton & McFarland-Piazza, 2014; Fenton, Walsh, Wong & Cumming, 2015). While theoretically, a strengths approach promotes a social justice focus on creating collaborative partnerships with families to address issues rather than enforcing ‘expert-led’ decisions, evidence on how this is actualised in early childhood practice is lacking. To this end, the 5 step strengths approach implementation guide developed through social services work of St. Luke’s in Australia (McCashen, 2005) is examined as a useful translation tool. On a practical level the 5 steps suggested to implement a strengths approach are 1) exploring issues with stakeholders, 2) visioning an outcome, 3) identifying strengths, 4) identifying resources, and 5) developing strategies for solutions to issues.

To keep reading and view the full article login with your member's username and password

Here’s how our membership plans work:

  • Individual Membership plans can view both Individual member-only articles and our library of Research Journals (but not the ECE Service management article area). In addition, individual members can discuss and ask questions of fellow members any time through the online childcare and early childhood education practice, policy, and research discussion forum.
  • Early Childhood Service plans can view ALL member articles: Individual, Research Journals and Early Childhood Service articles. Also on this membership plan members can access the online discussion forum for individual members AND the online ECE service management / business forum.
  • Research Journal subscription plans can view our library of Research Journals and related research articles only

Should you not hold a current membership –  you are welcome to apply now.

Free E-Newsletter

Receive the free Early Childhood Alert.


We hate spam as much as you, we will not sell your contact details to anyone.

You can unsubscribe at any time.

Read our Privacy Policy here.

Don’t miss out any longer, click the button below to join ChildForum

Join Us!



Subscribe now for information you can trust, expert advice and research, as well as access to quality resources

We are confident you will be delighted to discover and experience the benefits of membership - so join now and make this message for non-members disappear from your screen. 

Membership Options


Who is this for?
This plan is for any person who works with children or has an interest in early childcare and early childhood education.

$98.00 12 months from the date of joining
$60.00 6 months student-only

Your own personal username and password.

ECE Service 

Who is this for?
Centres, home-based, hospital-based, playgroups ... licensed or new set-ups.

$198.00 12 months from the date of joining
Does your ECE group have more than 1 service? See our discounted rates

A shared username and password for your team or ECE group.

Library NZ-International Research
in ECE Journal Subscriber

Who is this for?
Universities, Polytechnics and organisations wishing to have access to all past and current NZIRECE published journal and its articles. Hundreds of research articles!

$125.00 annual renewable in November each year

A username and password for your library users linked to your IP address.