John P. Ronnau


Children with severe emotional problems often have multiple needs that require disparate services including child welfare, juvenile justice, health, mental health, substance abuse, and mental retardation (Stroul, 1996). However, the primary care giving responsibilities for these youngsters still remain with their families. It is the family who shelters and clothes them; provides guidance, affection, recreation, nurturing; gets them to appointments with doctors and therapists and to school dayin- and-day-out, year after year (Lourie, 1995). Despite the invaluable and irreplaceable care provided by families, they are often maligned by a system which characterizes them as having their own problems and inadequacies.

The purpose of this research is to learn more about the strengths of families who care for children with severe emotional disabilities (SED). This exploratory descriptive study made use of focus groups attended by parents who are caring for such children. In order to improve services to these families, it is important that we understand how the notion of strengths play out in their everyday lives. Observations are made about the care giving plan, which all families devise in the course of caring for their child with special needs. Implications for paid professionals who serve these families are offered by presenting a model for putting family care givers at the hub of the service provision wheel.