Identifying and addressing the underlying needs of children and families is fundamental to our practice. Underlying needs are what drive the behaviors that often worry or challenge us. In many cases, challenging behaviors are the symptoms of unmet needs. In order to be effective, case plans must be individualized and directly address the needs of a child and family – not just the behaviors.
Needs often revolve around SAFETY (children need to feel emotionally and physically safe), WELL-BEING (children may need to talk about their fears or losses), and PERMANENCY (children need to know where they will grow up and need to have a family and community they can call home.)
How can we identify underlying needs? It all starts with engagement. Be genuinely curious! Ask skillful questions and listen with openness – these are key to uncovering the strengths and underlying needs of the youth and family. Exploring hunches to reach a shared view is also important. Bear in mind that addressing the underlying needs of a child or youth may require addressing the underlying needs of the family, as well.
Remember: you don’t have to have all the answers! When we team with youth and families and their supports, we can all work to identify underlying needs, and brainstorm individualized plans to meet them.
By partnering with others to identify and respond to underlying needs, families are more likely to enjoy safer and longer-lasting outcomes that help children thrive.