HRZZ IP-2014-09-9515


fakultet Sveučilišta u Zagrebu

[ Specifična obilježja

obitelji u riziku: doprinos planiranju

kompleksnih intervencija ]

About the project

Recent findings indicate that intervention systems for children, youth and adults with behavioural problems should focus simultaneously on the individual with the problem and his/her family. Therefore, gaining new knowledge on families at risk and development of new interventions and services present a permanent research and professional challenge.

The overall objective of the proposed study is to identify characteristics of specific groups of families at risk, their resilience, readiness for change, readiness for intervention; and life satisfaction, as a set of new, under-researched processes which could be of importance for complex family interventions planning. Specific objectives on one hand relate to the family at risk research methodology development and on the other hand to determine the relationship between the aforementioned characteristics of families at risk, which were never researched in Croatia. The study sample includes 200 families at risk, with at least one family member who is, due to behavioural problems, a beneficiary of interventions in the area of education, social welfare, mental health and/or justice in the City of Zagreb and Zagreb County. Various qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis methods shall be used. Due to the methodological complexity and the sensitivity of the content and research draft ethics, a relatively large, carefully selected research team will conduct the project activities, ensuring competences in the areas of research methodology, theoretical and professional aspects of the issues in focus.

In addition to the new findings on the characteristics of the families at risk, this study will contribute to the family and family environment research methodology development. The outcomes of the study will allow development of guidelines for complex family at risk interventions planning based on beneficiary perspective and scientific data.

Why do we do this research?

Available scientifically relevant studies on the system and individual interventions for persons with behavioural problems in Croatia made no significant impact on the existing intervention practice. This is especially true for the interventions targeting children and youth with behavioural problems which are of professional and scientific interest to the social pedagogy discipline in the areas of upbringing-education (pedagogy), social, corrective and therapy/treatment. Due to increasing characteristics complexity of the population of persons with behavioural problems (including risk behaviours, behavioural disorders, criminal activities) and of the circumstances these persons live in, for the past several decades, social interventions have required an interdisciplinary approach and close inter-sector cooperation (primarily in the education, health care, social policy and judiciary sectors).

Taking into account the recent findings presented both in the research results, as well as, in international and Croatian professional policies, the important basic values of modern approaches to children, youth and adults with behavioural problems for the purposes of the proposed study are:

  • concurrent focus on the child/young person and the family in a way which allows their needs to dictate the intervention type and connection of sectors which implement them (Elber and Keenan, 2004; Fagan, Van Horn, Antaramian i Hawkings, 2011; Jenson i Fraser, 2006; Petrosino and Derzoni Lavenberg, 2009; Uhlendorff, 2008; Welsh and Farrington, 2006);
  • the decision-making process when selecting an intervention for persons with behavioural problems should be based on standardised assessment procedures of individual and family characteristics, needs and circumstances (Gudbrandsson, 2006), as well as on the involvement and participation of family members in the entire process;
  • the need for developing new and reinforcing existing interventions/ services for all and especially for high risk individuals and families in the community, which are based on the solid evidence of an existing link between the lack of and/or fragmentation of measures/interventions/services for families and the number and type of out-of-home care, i.e. residential care/interventions for children and youth Gudbrandsson, 2006, Fain, Greathouse, Turner and Weinberg, 2014, Maurović, 2011, Families First Programme Evaluation, 2010, Dagenais, 2004);
  • encouraging and maintaining contact between children and parents who are serving a prison sentence, undergoing treatment, etc.; with maximum support of the community in order to avoid at least some of the numerous negative consequences these families face (Recomm. No.(99)22, Loper, 2006; DeFina, Hannon, 2010; Celinska, Siegel, 2010);
  • increased focus on researching and understanding families and family problems (Gudbrandsson, 2006); conducting action and evaluation studies aimed at creation and evaluation of service programs aimed at developmental needs and children’s’ rights protection and exercise (Draft National Strategy for Children’s Rights in the Republic of Croatia from 2014 to 2020, measure 1.4.).

Moreover, the existing international evaluation studies show that interventions in the family and with the family, both preventive and intensive, were more successful than individual or out-of-home interventions for children coming from risk families and more cost-effective; also, they were more accepted by the beneficiaries, especially when separation of children from their families was prevented (Fain and all., 2014, Welsh Government – Evaluation of Families First, 2014, Dekovic and all., 2012, Maurović, 2011, Families First Programme Evaluation, 2010, Dagenais, 2004, Szarota i Majerek, 2013).

Findings about the current state of play and the practice of interventions targeting the population of persons with behavioural problems in Croatia and the results of some recent Croatian studies stand opposite to these values and research lessons.

Briefly speaking, the system and practice of insufficiently accessible, differentiated and fragmented interventions faces a challenging reality when it comes to potential risks and behavioural problems of children, youth and adults; which is all backed by statistical data and results of a relatively small number of studies and supported by advanced national legislation. Inaddition, the representation, efficiency and effectiveness of the intervention system are neither scientifically based nor verified. At the same time, both the public and the professional community are aware that establishing and maintenance of such a system is difficult, which leads to new efforts directed towards de-institutionalization and development of community based programs for all vulnerable groups.

Consequently, the following challenging questions emerge: How to use the existing body of knowledge on the population characteristics and the intervention system in order to improve the latter?; How to broaden the knowledge on those characteristics of individuals and families at risk which are of key significance for the realization of different types and levels of interventions?; How to develop an intervention that will allow concurrent addressing of problems/risks expressed in different areas of life (health, education, judiciary) and inclusion/participation of all significant stakeholders (family, class, community, different sectors)?; How to research "the private world" of individuals and families who resist to change and intervention, and to the practitioners who lead the intervention?; How to integrate and apply usual quantitative and qualitative data collection methods for individuals in the family environment?; How to integrate the understanding of populations at risk, interventions and observed phenomena as interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary phenomena?; How to shift the focus from deficiencies/problem solving to strengths, not only of beneficiaries but of professionals as well?; How to take into account the needs of individuals and populations at different levels of risk during application of non-discriminating, strength-centred approaches/interventions (overcoming the inequality trend as well)?; How do the key ethical issues in conducting research with individuals correspond to the key ethical issues in conducting research with families in our culture?

This study is planned as an applied research and focused on the two major groups of questions – scientific research questions and questions related to practical problems and needs in the area of interventions aimed at persons with behavioural problems and their families (prevention, early intervention, treatment and post-treatment – national and local level).

Since the population of persons with behavioural problems differs significantly by types of problems, life circumstances, individual characteristics and age, the proposed study will focus on very specific groups of persons within this population. These are either groups of persons coming from populations with under-researched characteristics and needs for intervention, and of which, in Croatia, we currently lack the scientifically relevant and other knowledge, such as: adults, parents substance abusers, their families and children; parents prisoners, their families and children; under-age parents with behavioural problems, their families and children; pupils with organically caused behavioural problems, their families and intervention needs; or the groups of children and youth identified as persons falling in the moderate or high risk category in the area of family life and parenting according to the recent studies (Žižak and Koller-Trbović, 2013; Koller-Trbović, Žižak, and Jeđud, 2009; Žižak and Koller-Trbović, 2007; Koller-Trbović, Ratkajec and Mirosavljević, 2009; Mirosavljević i Koller-Trbović, 2011; Žižak and all., 2012; Žižak and Koller-Trbović, 2013), such as children and youth with behavioural problems in residential treatment, subject to the measure of increased care and supervision, in treatment within the extended professional procedure in schools or institutions, showing problems with addiction, unemployed, etc..

In order to meet the scientific, practical as well as the overall objective of the proposed study, four complex, interconnected theoretical constructs will be studied with families at risk for the first time in Croatia. These are: (1) family resilience, (2) family members’ readiness for intervention and change, (3) life satisfaction and (4) complex interventions.

Research goals

The overall objective of the proposed study is to identify characteristics of specific groups of families at risk, their resilience, readiness for change, readiness for intervention; and life satisfaction, as a set of new, under-researched processes which could be of importance for complex family interventions planning.

Specific objectives:

  • To develop specific approaches in the framework of qualitative, quantitative and "mix-method" methodology of researching families for the purpose of planning complex interventions.
  • To identify general and specific characteristics of families with at least one family member who is a beneficiary of interventions in the area of education, social welfare, mental health and/or judiciary due to specific risks/behavioural problems.
  • To determine characteristics of resilience, readiness for change, readiness for intervention and life satisfaction of families with at least one family member who is a beneficiary of interventions in the area of education, social welfare, mental health and/or judiciary due to specific risks/behavioural problems.
  • Examine the differences in risk factors, characteristics of resilience, readiness for change, readiness for interventions and life satisfaction of different groups according to the risk levels of families whose member is a beneficiary of interventions in the area of education, social welfare, mental health and/or judiciary due to specific risks/behavioural problems.
  • Examine the contribution of risk factors to the resilience, readiness for change and readiness for intervention in the interpretation of life satisfaction perception of different groups of families at risk.
  • Define the guidelines for planning (complex) interventions for families at risk which are based on the beneficiary perspective and disseminate the results of the study and the guidelines.


In order to achieve the objectives of this project and assess the characteristics of families at risk with a member who is a beneficiary of interventions in the area of education, social welfare, mental health and/or judiciary due to specific risks/behavioural problems and determine family needs and strengths, readiness of its members for change, readiness for intervention and life satisfaction perception, a complex mixed method study is planned.

A simultaneous mixed method study is planned which requires gathering of quantitative and qualitative data in short intervals, and the results of the quantitative part will not be discussed before the qualitative part of the study is conducted. Although this approach is recommended for better understanding of complex social phenomena, since the 1980’s (Greenstein, 2006) even today the literature review shows that it is rarely used. This approach combines quantitative and qualitative methodology and allows the complementary effect, triangulation and increased validity of data leading to a more detailed description of the state, but also, to the in depth understanding of the processes researched.

Ethical issues

New knowledge on parenting, family relations (etc.) is undoubtedly useful, but impossible to gain without research in the family and about the family (Phoenix and Hollway, 2008; Roseneil, 2006; Thomson, and all., 2008). Such studies are very complex and challenging due to numerous aspects, and especially ethical considerations. The family relations are a sensitive topic, since private and intimate details about family lives are dealt with, which are often perceived as "sacred", kept in the family and not shared with the others (Fontes, 2004, 142; Smart, 2006, 155). The literature contains numerous ethical guidelines on how to research certain family relationships, especially domestic violence (Aronson Fontes, 2004, World Health Organization, 2001, Elsberg and Hiese, 2002, Rimac and Ogresta, 2014), however they refer to the research of listed topics with individuals, whilst only a few references (Jordan, 2006, Gabb, 2010, Hamalainen, 2011, Morrow, 2013), provide guidelines to researchers regarding the specific ethical dilemmas when conducting studies with entire families.

Therefore, this project will start from known ethical principles which will be completed according to specific ethical aspects of the research with families. Good research practice requires that the initial outline of ethical norms originates from ethical standards and the legal framework. In Croatia, such research practice is regulated by the Ethical Code for Research with Children (Ajduković i Kolesarić, 2003), Ethical Code of the University of Zagreb (2007) and specific laws (The Execution of Prison Sentence Act, 1999; Act on Protection Against Domestic Violence, 2010, Criminal Code, 2011, 2012, The Probation Act, 2012; and The Family Act, 2014).

The research team will follow the guidelines laid down by the aforementioned Ethical Codes and legal provisions. Meaning that general ethical principles of the research process will be followed: importance of full information provision on the objectives and study research procedures, autonomy of subjects in deciding on participation in the study, confidentiality of data, protection of the participants’ well-being and benefit from the knowledge (Rimac and Ogresta, 2014). In addition, attention will be paid to possible ethical issues which are specific for quantitative and qualitative research with all family members in the family home.

In order to respect all listed ethical principles and specifics of research with families the following is planned:

  • Prior to the research, the research team will request the approval for conducting the research from the Ethics Committee of the Faculty and competent ministries. – After the approval is granted, the competent institutions will identify the families to whom participation will be proposed.
  • Individual families will be contacted by the expert responsible for the criterion member intervention application, and all members of the family will be informed on the aim and the objectives of the study, procedures and risks and potential benefits for the family from participation in the study, in order for all members (parents on behalf of children) to make their autonomous decisions to participate in the study or not. The risks will be explained in regards to the legal obligation of reporting threats to well-being of any family member (child neglect and abuse of one or more family members). Possible benefits will be presented by findings of recent literature and similar international studies (opportunity to talk about topics which are usually not discussed in everyday life, possible effect of empowerment for the family and the opportunity to verbalise their opinion of all the good and bad things in the intervention system, and their role in creating new knowledge on needs and resources of families whose one or more members are beneficiaries of some of the interventions, based on which guidelines for appropriate family interventions will be created.)
  • Confidentiality of data will be guaranteed, i.e. data (with exception of detection of threats to well-being of family member/s) will be available only to the research team, and that data will be used only for scientific purposes.
  • The well-being of the participants will be protected in the way that specially trained and experienced researchers will enter the family home, paying attention on the way they enter and communicate with family members. The researchers will use acceptable professional practice for entering families (Jordan, 2006). – Preparation for the conversation on sensitive topics will be carried out by the researchers, by announcing the topic of each set of questions, and verifying with the family members if they wish to continue answering this set of questions. Therefore, giving consent will be a continuous recurrent process during the entire study.
  • Before the research starts, the research pair will agree with the families on the plan of procedures depending on various situations (i.e. how they wish that the research team proceeds if a family member cries, refuses answering a question, says something which other family member/s do not wish to be put on the record, if difference of opinion occurs among family members), taking into account the ethics of the proposal.
  • During the research each family will be given a food purchase voucher (for predetermined stores) as form of compensation for the time and effort invested in the study, special attention will be paid to the way how this topic will be presented to the families by the team members in order to avoid that this is perceived as "soliciting or bribery".
  • All possible unpredictable ethical dilemmas and issues will be discussed by the team members and with assistance of external consultants for that area.
  • All collected data will be kept for the period that will not exceed 48 months calculating from the day of the interview/survey completion. Data will be kept in a secure place according to the guidelines on data protection (EC Regulation no. 45/2001 of the European Parliament and of the Council of December 2000 on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data by the Community institutions and bodies and on the free movement of such data and the Data Protection Act, 103/03, 118/06, 41/08, 130/11, 106/12). After 48 months expire from the set date, the data will be destroyed.