Finding Synergies Between Structural Family Therapy and Advocacy for Poor Families

On April 12, more than 100 practitioners from the fields of child advocacy, policy, social work, government and more attended an Equity for Children-hosted session entitled Working with Families of the Poor: Taking Forward the Legacy of Salvador Minuchin at The New School. Participants from 10 countries including Argentina, Brazil and Nigeria joined by simulcast.

Mary Watson, Executive Dean at the Schools of Public Engagement, launched the event by lauding the ongoing importance of Salvador Minuchin’s work in the field of Structural Family Therapy, whose revolutionary methods helped thousands of marginalized families and children overcome trauma. He believed that “the struggles of a child are also a reflection of the struggles of the family and that of the community.” Minuchin, who died last year at 96, fought to bring the benefits of family therapy, once only a privilege of the rich, to poor families.

Panelists discussed Minuchin’s advocacy for social justice decades ago and its equal relevance today. Those supporting underserved children and their families still face entrenched problems such as the lack of equal access to therapy and quality care in the governmental justice system.  A holistic vision of the family remains elusive.

Alberto Minujin, Executive Director of Equity for Children and a cousin of Salvador Minuchin, advocated “challenging the story” that is being told by a child and their family. “Who is the good guy, the bad, and why?” he asked the audience. He urged a look at the multidimensional factors of a narrative and how they relate to one another. Minuchin, he said, questioned the system of therapy as it was and also the systemic poverty of minorities, thereby eliminating restrictive labels and opening up a new approach.

Audience members and panelists discussed Minuchin’s intervention with individuals and their context within family relationships. They echoed his strong belief in pointing to a family’s resources and its ability to develop solutions — rather than focusing on defining their pathologies. They suggested new ways to partner with agencies such as social services and welfare that ultimately disempower the poor. “A very important movement includes the voice of children in the solution. Children make up 30 percent of the population and must be given agency​,” said keynote speaker, panelist and International Consultant and Trainer in Systems and Family Therapy Ema Genijovich. She added: “Those dealing with trauma should not be marginalized or institutionalized away from society’s eye”.

This seminar is part of an innovative series of conversations sponsored by Equity for Children at The New School. It addresses Minuchin’s approach to child trauma and the importance of looking into the multifaceted relationships and identities of a child in order to provide proper assistance and advocacy. This first event took place in partnership with The New School’s Center for Attachment Research, headed by Co-Directors Howard and Miriam Steele.  


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