Preventing breakdown
A manual for those working with families and the individuals within them
By Mark Hamer

Preventing Breakdown is a 'how-to' book. It explains how you as a front line worker, manager or policy maker can create an environment where families can exploit their potential to develop and protect their children. It offers tools and ideas that will guide workers into building on the family's strengths and self efficacy, developing family pride, a focus on solutions and a determination to succeed.

Before taking that most damaging step of taking children away from their homes and families and leaving them in strange and unfamiliar environments, childcare social workers, managers, and ultimately policy makers must be able to say that the alternatives have been tried, that family and community strengths have been explored, developed and exploited and that there really is no other option.

Based on a way of working with childcare cases that originated in the USA ('Homebuilders'), this Option 2 intervention model won the Community Care Award for Child Protection in 2001. The tools and concepts in this book are deeply practical, providing clear professional input and measurable outcomes for children and families. Workers using them will feel valued as professionals, confident when trying to work with difficult situations, and they will make more accurate assessments.

Rhoda Emlyn-Jones, Service Manager for Option 2 at Cardiff, writes in her foreword: "It is with great pleasure and some awe that I commend Mark's excellent work… to bring this successful approach to a much wider audience."

A4 wiro. 160 pages. 978-1-903855-61-4. Published 2005. £29.95.



Families speaking
Guiding principles
An overview of the 'Option 2' model
Crisis intervention
Waiting lists
A structured intervention
Taking the referral
Referral criteria
Making contact
Assessment concepts
Inappropriate referrals
Briefer interventions
Clients feelings
The next two weeks
The final days
Closing report
Maintenance meeting
Follow up visits
Booster sessions

Power and partnership
Written agreements
Client files
Working with fear
The truth is holistic
Problems are unique
Working with families
Communication skills
Working with the family
Joining with clients
Traps to avoid as a helper
Cognitive dissonance
Constructive feedback
Motivational interviewing
Rolling with resistance
Self-motivational statements
Stages of change
Solution-focused brief therapy
Pre-session change
Goal setting
Exception finding
Reluctant clients
The Miracle question
Working with cards
Values cards
Strength cards
Goal cards
Paper exercises
Creating a safety plan
Goal attainment scaling (GAS)
Goal sheets
Result of behaviour-specific goal setting
Developing a family centred plan of action
The weekly plan
Teaching new skills
Providing support services
Worker skills
Crisis card
'I' messages
Self-defeating and self-enhancing ideas
Anger management
Cognitive distortions
An action plan to help parents manage children's behaviour
93 ways to say 'very good'
Tips for coping with depression
Tips for coping with stress
Tips for coping with panic
Learn how to relax
Working with suicidal clients
Staff care

Safety policy
Guidelines for contacting your supervisor
Potentially difficult issues
Our workers
Real people
Continued improvement
Useful contacts
Further reading


Mark Hamer
was a founding member of the award winning Option 2 team in Cardiff. He is the author of The barefoot helper: mindfulness and creativity in social work and the helping professions.


"For practitioners working with high level risk families, there are real ideas on how to encourage, motivate and sustain change within families, as well as tools and exercises to help families identify attainable goals, ensure a 'safer' home environment, and chart progress towards achieving their goals…well worth investing the time to read." Professional Social Work.

"Offers practical techniques for empowering and engaging families to work out their problems… no nonsense evidence-based practice advice. It also includes chapters on communication skills, power and partnership, and motivational interviewing. It includes a number of practical handouts for tips for coping with depression, stress and so on. These can be used by the individual reader or by families themselves…. offers simple, effective and tested solutions to crisis situations within families with measurable outcomes for practitioners and families. A comprehensive 'hands on' resource, it is an invaluable book for practitioners and students." Community Care.

"Places the reader in the position of a worker or policy maker who helps to create a protective and caring environment for families. Full of new ideas, this book is a useful guide to building the family strengths, developing pride and focusing on solutions rather than problems. …an accessible and essential book to have at hand." ChildRIGHT.

"Focuses on the very practical ways in which the social workers involved in the project work with families in difficulty, to support them and promote the creation of goals based upon their visions of a possible better future…..crucial to the positive reframing of the work conducted with families whose children are in the care system." CAFCASS Practice and Research Digest.

"This manual should be of interest to any practitioner who works with families in difficulty… The tone is intensely practical, and there are numerous exercises and handouts." Care and Health.

"A book every social worker should have. It contains guidance on methods of intervention that promote positive change in families in crisis, problem-solving and non confrontational interviewing, as well as useful, photocopiable tools… Provides practical examples of how workers can create an environment where families can exploit their potential to develop and protect children through partnership, communication, empowerment, motivation and goal setting." Children Now.

"Packed with ideas and exercises… will inspire practitioners and families… will be plundered by all staff who wish to find new and creative ways of engaging with families… I could not fault it… I could not put it down… we have a gem here." Martin C. Calder.

"This is a brilliant book. Every so often I read a book which I really wish I had written: this is one of those. Helping families in distress and adversity to keep together is a huge and vital task: this book explains how to do it. Using the realities of partnership, communication, empowerment, motivation, goal setting, and enabling new skills to be developed, Mark Hamer has provided detailed help to all of us who work in this field. He is to be hugely congratulated." Professor Richard Velleman, University of Bath and Avon & Wiltshire Mental Health NHS Trust.