Contemporary families are diverse in nature, reflecting the socioeconomic environments surrounding them. The idea that a traditional family exists, from which students can compare and contrast other nontraditional family units, is nonproductive to the goals and objectives of family service providers. It is necessary, however, to categorize and define families when public and private programs assess needs and determine qualified services for citizens based on that designation. Chapter 2 presents a framework for understanding contemporary family definitions and structures.

Joe and Rocia have three children. Joe recently lost his job. To qualify for financial assistance through various local and state programs, they must meet the criteria of those programs in terms of how a family is defined. Some programs may only be available to them if they are legally married. Other assistance programs may provide more resources if Rocia is unmarried. These discrepancies challenge ethical decision making and may result in a weakening of family structure. Some assistance may be available based on their household status regardless of whether they share a home. If Joe is not the biological father of the children, his assistance may only be based on what is deemed necessary for a single male.

In terms of family resource management, it is assumed that families are units where members strive to meet the needs of all members while maintaining that family unit over a period of time. Thus, families have both individual and group needs. Identification and communication of these needs are continual. To satisfy these needs, resources must be identified and secured. Money and material possessions are easiest to identify as important family resources; however, the human resources available among all family members are just as important, if not even more essential, to the family’s survival and maintenance.

The processes of identifying needs and securing resources are dynamic within a family unit. Situations arise in frequent, repetitive ways that allow many decisions to become subconscious and almost habitual. Family members shopping for a weekly supply of groceries may cruise down the store aisles identifying and purchasing an assortment of products with little deliberation. These products have been identified through previous decision-making processes; until family members decide that these basic products are no longer meeting their needs, they are habitual purchases. Other situations require more deliberation and information seeking. The working parent who is confronted on Monday morning with an ill childcare provider must find a specific resource to meet an acute need. The stress level in this type of decision is much higher because this decision impacts the family unit on multiple levels.

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