What is the Teaching Family Model?

For children who have experienced significant and repeated trauma, traditional out-of-home care (such as foster and residential care) doesn’t always provide the right support. The Teaching Family Model (TFM) offers a new, innovative way of caring for children and young people aged 6 – 17 years in a family-style setting.

Specially trained carers, called practitioners, receive extensive training on how to care for vulnerable children and can help them:

  • learn how to form healthy family relationships
  • significantly improve their social skills
  • identify the main triggers that cause them stress
  • better manage their emotions.

When challenging behaviours are significantly reduced, children can have more stability in their care placements and their schooling. Ultimately, this gives them a better chance of reaching their full potential and having a better future.

Why TFM?

There is an increasing and disproportionately high number of children coming in to the out-of-home care system in Victoria. The current system is stretched; Berry Street is rolling out a new, proven model of care which will reimagine the future for our most vulnerable children.

The Teaching Family Model is an evidence-based, alternative approach to traditional residential care. TFM provides effective, trauma-informed care where children learn important interpersonal and living skills to help them reach their full potential. This is an opportunity for Berry Street to reshape the residential care sector in Victoria and provide better care for the most vulnerable children.

Berry Street began implementing the model in 2017 and we aim to be fully accredited with support from New Zealand-based organisation, Youth Horizons | Kia Puāwai, by the end of 2020.

What makes it so successful?

The Teaching Family Model is a trauma-informed model of care where children learn new behaviours by observing and imitating others. The focus on building children’s strengths, problem-solving and leadership skills means children can grow their confidence and reach their full potential. TFM was developed in the United States and has more than 40 years of research evidence, with the model being formally recognised by the American Psychological Association as an evidence-based practice in 2003.

Learning healthy family relationships

Peter* and Nicole* are two dedicated carers who have become Teaching Family Model practitioners. They were caring for two brothers, Sam* (age 9) and Simon* (age 10), for several months before introducing TFM. Ruby* (age 7), an unrelated child, joined the family soon after.

The children had previously displayed a range of challenging behaviours: when Sam first entered the home, for example, he often ran away from his carers and school. TFM helps motivate children to change challenging behaviours through using basic behaviour explanations and giving children responsibilities within the family. It also teaches carers to focus on the most difficult issue at a time for a child, giving them a simpler approach to difficult problems.

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Free to be a child again

Lucas* was 6 when he came to Berry Street. Lucas was a victim of family violence and was so affected by his past of abuse and trauma, he struggled in traditional foster care homes. He didn’t know how to communicate or what it felt like to live in a stable home where he was safe from violence.

Now in a Teaching Family Model house, Lucas is learning how to live in a family and how to communicate.

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*Names have been changed in the interest of privacy. The models and volunteers pictured are not connected to the case study.