Parents as partners
Parents as partners

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Parents as partners

2.6 Acknowledging family structures

Practitioners need a good knowledge of the many forms that family structures can take. It's important not to make the assumption that most children live with a mother and a father who are married. Tassoni (2002) summarises the main kinds of family arrangements that provide care for children in the following way:

Figure 4
Figure 4 Some possible family structures
  • In a ‘nuclear family’, mother and father live together with their children but separately from other family members. They may be married or ‘co-habiting’.

  • In a ‘homosexual family’, a homosexual couple takes care of children. They may be gay or lesbian.

  • In a ‘reconstituted family’, children live with one natural parent and a step-parent. Families may also include step-sisters and brothers and/or half-sisters and brothers.

  • In an ‘adoptive family’, children may live with adopted or foster parents.

  • In a ‘communal family’, children may live with their parents in communes where other members are also involved in the childcare.

  • In a ‘nomadic family’, parents do not have a permanent home, and travel from place to place with their children – traveller families, for example.

  • In a ‘lone-parent family’, a single parent takes care of children, either through choice or for other reasons. This may be, for instance, because of divorce or separation, or the death of a partner.

  • In an ‘extended family’, family members live together and share the care of children.

(Adapted from Tassoni, 2000, p. 272.)

In all early years settings there are children experiencing such family arrangements. It is important that you do not make assumptions about the nature of families when setting up partnerships with parents. Jane Ribbens believes families to be ‘private and intimately defined’ structures (Ribbens, 2000): the extent to which practitioners have knowledge of children's family arrangements will depend on what children and their parents or carers feel they want to disclose. This is another dimension of partnership that requires considerable tact from practitioners.


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