Family-centered nursing care has remained a prevalent focus for some of the most sought-after nursing specialties for several years. Its scope suggests a partnership approach to healthcare delivery and decision-making between the patient, their family and the healthcare provider.

Family-centric care is the standard of several healthcare specialties across various clinical practices, including pediatrics care, institutions and medical groups. Despite this prevalence, it continues to be insufficiently incorporated into clinical practice.

This form of healthcare has the potential to provide improved medical results, care delivery and medical system transformations. Below, we provide a comprehensive guide on family-centered healthcare, enumerating the components, principles and benefits.

What is Family-Centered Care?

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Family-centered or relationship-centered care represents one of the four practical approaches that offer a comprehensive perspective of working with children and their families. The term is commonly employed in describing an optimal healthcare experience for families through information sharing, partnership, respect and negotiation, all of which combine to foster a successful outcome in a complex clinical setting.

Family-centered care incorporates values, attitudes and strategies to care for children with special needs and their families. Some clinical settings scenarios also integrate additional specialized services, such as medical and psychiatric healthcare, which focuses on teaching children and their parents the best treatment option for specific illnesses and diseases.

This healthcare method is highly customizable and recognizes the distinctive features of each family and how these features impact a child’s life. Healthcare professionals take these features into consideration and work closely with the family to make informed decisions concerning the care and support needed.

Components of Family-Centered Nursing Care

According to family-centered care, each family is unique, plays a consistent role in a child’s life, and is an expert on the child’s abilities and needs. So, this care centers on the belief that the best place for children to grow up is within a family.

Additionally, it identifies healthcare strategies that engage, involve, support and strengthen a family as the most effective way to ensure a child’s safety, well-being and stability. In line with this, some critical components of family-centered nursing practice, as proposed by the Institute for Family-Centered Care, include the following:

  •       Recognizing the family is the constant in a child’s life.
  •       Respect the racial, religious, cultural, ethnic and socioeconomic diversity of families.
  •       Working closely with the family to ensure the safety and well-being of all family members.
  •       Recognize family strengths and alternative ways of coping.
  •       Understand the developmental needs of children and their families and incorporate these into healthcare provision.
  •       Empowering a family’s capacity to function effectively by focusing on solutions.
  •       Engaging, strengthening, and partnering with families throughout the decision-making and healthcare provision process.
  •       Share accurate, consistent, and unbiased information with parents to support their needs and ability to make decisions with adequate information.
  •       Offer relevant professional services, from assessment to treatment and recommendations.
  •       Formulating a significant relationship between nurses and parents epitomized by respect, honesty, trust, and open communication.
  •       Offering tailored, flexible, effective, and culturally responsive services for each family.
  •       Connecting families with networks of support groups that also offer collaborative, effective, and culturally relevant services.
  •       Develop flexible schedules for healthcare services to support optimal family participation.

Principles of Family-Centered Care in Nursing

On its own, family-centered care remains non-specific and ambiguous, which has resulted in numerous interpretations, implementations, and measurements. While a general definition has yet to be established, there is considerable agreement on the principles of family-centered care.

These principles were developed by well-renowned healthcare groups such as the Institute for Patient and Family-Centered Care, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the Maternal and Child Health Bureau.

Recognize and Respect One Another’s Knowledge and Expertise

Nursing professionals have specialized skills, knowledge, and expertise that are relevant to specific scenarios. A broad nursing knowledge base includes physiology, pharmacology, and other industry-relevant theories for practical critical thinking, clinical judgment, and decision-making. Nurses develop this expertise through their nursing training and clinical experience.

However, regardless of a nurse’s comprehensive qualifications, the knowledge and expertise of other significant parties, such as families and educators, should also be recognized. The family is a child’s primary source of support and strength, and they play a crucial role in early childhood by ensuring children grow up in a supportive and healthy environment.

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Families and educators each possess unique and essential knowledge and skill sets regarding children. Research has shown families to be more effective and confident when provided with recognition and respect for the competency they possess. Given this, nurses should recognize and show respect to the family.

This principle is epitomized in a “strengths-based approach” to healthcare. Strength-based nursing focuses on a family’s inner and outer strengths while caring for a patient. It centers on eight core values that help promote empowerment, self-efficacy and hope. Recognizing a family’s knowledge and expertise and acknowledging this competency when interacting with them is a strength-based approach to healthcare.

Share Information Through Two-Way Communication

The importance of clear communication between healthcare providers and families cannot be overstated regarding a patient’s medical outcome and satisfaction. In the case of pediatric care, open communication results in improved patient satisfaction. It also fosters patient safety and encourages candid feedback.

Effective communication should flow in a two-way channel between nurses and the family. This helps to support the sharing of information and encourages patient participation during treatment while also maintaining privacy rights, especially in cases of disability, and respects the patient’s and family’s ability to make relevant decisions.

Effective, two-way communication can be employed in most interactions, from written to verbal, formal to informal, and group and individual interactions. Some benefits of two-way communication for family-centered care include:

  •       Increased access to more information.
  •       Access to a standard body of information.
  •       Encourages partnership and collaboration.
  •       Fosters respect for each party’s competency, experience, and knowledge.

It’s not uncommon for medical professionals or families to make errors when providing pediatric healthcare. However, in the event of such errors, a relationship developed through open communication is vital to effectively correct the error. Finally, communication fosters project participation and information sharing and improves performance among medical personnel.

Share Power and Decision Making

A patient’s outcome depends on the treatment strategy and decisions made to improve their condition. As these decisions have significant implications for the patient at home and in a medical setting, it’s best to make every decision with the input of nurse practitioners and the patient’s family. This can only be achieved if the authority and decision-making process is shared between both parties.

It’s standard for professional perceptions and attitudes to depict the effectiveness of family-centered care. So, to fully explore the benefits of family-centered care, nurses must relinquish some level of control over family members. Rather than making all the decisions, the nurse’s responsibility is to guide the patient’s family in caring, protecting, and making decisions.

Sharing power and the decision-making process is essential and significantly improves the outcome for patients. Nurses decide what happens within the treatment program, while the family decides what happens when the patient is at home. However, both parties must be in constant communication to ensure each decision is compatible with the other and improves the child’s outcome.

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As important as this principle is, some professionals, especially entry-level nurses, still struggle to share power. However, experienced nurses understand the benefits and feel more comfortable empowering families to play a significant role in their child’s treatment.

Acknowledge and Respect Diversity

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to family-centered healthcare, as treatment methods are subject to several factors, one being diversity. Culture is an integrated pattern of human behavior, which incorporates our thoughts, languages, values, beliefs, interactions, communication, roles, relationship, and expected behaviors of certain elements.

Each family manifests distinct cultural, religious, and ethnic beliefs, and children are influenced by their families heritage, ethnicity, and spirituality. Culture impacts every aspect of a child’s care and education, with different families incorporating their own beliefs and perspectives. So, recognizing and respecting the diversity of other cultures can help nurses understand the factors that contribute to a patient’s health.

Culture influences several principles of family-centered healthcare, especially communication. Communication strategies are primarily developed in relationships, culture, family, and educational facilities. So, nurses must acknowledge cultural influences and consciously expand their diversity by developing new strategies and skills.

Additionally, information interpretation also depends on culture, experience, and, very importantly, temperament. Acknowledging and respecting diversity among families is non-negotiable in successfully implementing family-centered care. It’s also worth noting that some cultures are rigid and have values that are more based on their history, myths and societal power.

Create Networks of Support

Family-centered healthcare practice identifies the family as the patient’s best advisor, council, and task force for promoting the best possible treatment outcome. So, nurse practitioners must create several networks of support that include the patient and family members. This strategy encourages family members to participate in relevant safety groups, peer networks, and quality improvement initiatives.

Having people and groups they can depend on helps to protect families from several adverse outcomes. Some forms of network support include:

  •       Family to the program: Here, experienced family members can help provide groups with several resources, from ideas to cultural information, language, time, community resources, and connections, among other resources.
  •       Program to the family: Family members new to the system can also benefit from these programs by receiving relevant resources and learning how to build and participate in other support networks.
  •       Family to Family: Aside from participating in a program, family members can receive resources and guidance directly from other families with more experience.
  •       Community to the family: For families with some form of community support, nurses can work closely with this support group to identify new resources and share information with other families.

The medical professional creates structures and avenues for families, communities, and programs to participate in various support networks. This collaboration combines assets, beliefs, and capabilities in streamlining treatment and producing the best health outcome.

Practicing Family-Centered Care

From the principles and components of family-centered care, some competencies are required to effectively practice this healthcare method. For instance, effective communication with patients, families, and other medical professionals fosters shared and accurate decision-making and enhances health outcomes.

This is why this practice is reserved for acute care pediatric nurse practitioners and other professionals looking to explore leadership positions in nursing. Nurses must undergo training and education to develop competency and learn to master this advanced practice nursing method.

Transitioning your career into advanced nursing practice has become much easier with options such as direct entry nursing programs. These programs, such as the Master’s Entry in Nursing Practice offered by Elmhurst University, provide an accelerated pathway to earning an advanced degree and training applicants through hands-on clinical practice with an exceptional skill set focused on quality and safety. In completing such programs, you will become ready for new responsibilities in providing family-centered care and emerge with the skills of an advanced clinical nurse leader. Some of these programs are even designed to help non-nurses transition into a career in nursing.

Benefits of Family-Centered Care

This approach has several benefits, all underlined in the shift of control and power of healthcare from medical professionals to patients. Family-centered care recognizes the autonomy of patients, which is a significant aspect of industrial ethics and patient rehabilitation.

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Multiple studies have identified the family as a critical setting for health promotion. In recent years, family-centric treatment modalities have proven effective in shaping health behaviors and serve as valuable tools for education and health promotion. So, by obtaining inputs from patients and families about their experiences, healthcare providers can identify what is important to them, which leads to improved healthcare delivery.

According to a study on the satisfaction of parents of hospitalized children, healthcare satisfaction increased by 70% after implementing family-centered care. Medical professionals develop beyond their primary responsibilities and learn the intricacies of healthcare systems. Here is a list of some benefits of this method for both families and professionals:

  •       Decreased anxiety for families.
  •       Accelerated recovery time for patients.
  •       Reduced emotional distress during both treatment and the recovery period.
  •       Increased parent confidence and decision-making capacity.
  •       A stronger relationship with the family in promoting the patient’s health and development.
  •       More competitive position for professionals in the healthcare workforce.
  •       A practice environment that fosters professional satisfaction.
  •       A better understanding of the family’s strengths and caregiving capacities.

Additionally, improved family satisfaction also impacts the healthcare institution. Hospitals benefit from improvements in standardized measures of healthcare implementation and staff satisfaction. So, a family-centered approach helps all stakeholders in the healthcare industry, from professionals to patients and healthcare institutions.

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