When communities and organizations start to explore the Family and Natural Supports (FNS) model, they often start by asking two initial questions: “What is required to implement the FNS model?” and “Who is responsible implementation?” Continue reading to learn the answers to both questions.

What is required to implement the FNS model?

There are several Making the Shift demonstration sites across Canada that have implemented the FNS model. Working closely with these sites, we have consistently heard that leadership commitment is integral to the success of implementing FNS. First, you need a commitment from senior leadership to support and invest in early prevention models like FNS, with the acceptance that supporting upstream models is the key to ending and preventing youth homelessness.

Then, you need perseverance to be able to constantly examine and re-examine your practices and be willing to make changes when it is not in the best interest of the youth and families.

You also need to practice humility and be willing to challenge your own ideas. This means understanding and acknowledging that the programs and services currently being offered within their respective agencies are not yielding the best outcomes for youth AND their families.

Finally, you need to come at the work with openness. Openness to transforming current practices and seeing the youth’s families, natural supports and chosen families as part of the solution, not the problem.  When we welcome youth’s chosen people to the table, to be part of the supports and the youth’s healing journey, we acknowledge that they have valuable information that we, as professionals, do not hold.  We invite them because we need to care for the caregiver, we need to support the generation behind the youth.  We acknowledge that the family, natural supports and chosen family have had their own journey and like the youth, need supports as well.

Who is responsible for implementation?

Every. Single. Person. Anyone delivering services and supports to youth. The core principles of FNS should be the foundation of all programs. From shelter to housing, outreach to drop-in, we prioritize and place youth and their family at the center.  We recognize that we are not youth’s “forever people”, young people belong in families, whoever that is that they identify as family, not in agencies. Loneliness is lethal. Connecting them to communities, reconnecting to families and natural supports, and holding their hand while they build their social connections is a huge part of our job.  Do they have their people in place to rely on, people to surround them during times of celebration and to hold them close in hard times?

The goal of the FNS model is not only for youth to return home, but also to strengthen their safety net, to support them in reconnecting with their families and to provide opportunities to create new relationships that will carry them forward. Strong social networks and community connections are protective factors that not only increase well-being but ultimately prevent and end youth homelessness in the long run.

The FNS model also involves creating space and opportunities for youth to build and strengthen meaningful relationships in their lives that can be sustained throughout their lifespan. Simply put: it is about asking them who can be their 2am emergency phone call? Who can be there to help them pay their utility bill, find the right mechanic, or teach how to cook a turkey.  Being able to maintain supportive connections with healthy boundaries is a critical life skill that is often overlooked but will lead to increased wellbeing and the ability to meet needs for the young people we serve.

Through A Way Home Canada’s two-day Family and Natural Supports Training, we dig into these areas and more, including the FNS core principles, harm reduction in the family context, how to collaborate with systems and FNS in practice.

For more information, please contact Heidi Walter at hwalter@awayhome.ca 

To learn more about the FNS approach and how to implement it in your community, download Family and Natural Supports: A Framework to Enhance Young People’s Network of Support.