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Definition of Family

Situational Definitions

Theoretical definitions direct research, whereas situational definitions are important in practical situations and thus are the working terminology. This terminology facilitates the training of professional caregivers. Situational definitions are used for special types of families and are utilized by individuals from social service agencies to deal with special situations in which family form is changed, and a new form of family must emerge to protect those within the family, often children (Hartman 1990; McNeece 1995; Seligmann 1990). For example, Margaret Crosbie-Burnett and Edith Lewis (1993) utilize a situational definition of family in working with families where alcohol is abused. The term pedifocal, defined as "all those involved in the nurturance and support of an identified child, regardless of household membership [where the child lives]" (p. 244), expands the definition of the family from being only family members to include those working with the family. Thus, the child's interests are put above other needs to protect the child, despite the change in family structure and relationships. In this case, others who are not related to the child may become fictive kin who respond to the child's needs and contributing to his or her well-being.

Marci Hanson and Eleanor Lynch further illustrate the broader situational definitions of family. In their research with teachers they state, state (1992, p. 285) family is, "any unit that defines itself as a family including individuals who are related by blood or marriage as well as those who have made a commitment to share their lives." Perhaps the most explicit example of a situational definition of the family was given by Sally Bould (1993, p. 138) who defines family as "the informal unit where those who cannot take care of themselves can find care in the time of need." The family in this case is expanded to include anyone who helps an individual.

Another example would be the Israeli Kibbutz of the past, where children were cared for in a group setting by people other than their parents
(i.e., the metaplot or caretaker). In this setting, although the children still have biological parents, they also have caretakers who become their parent figures (Broude 1994). Based on this definition, family is expanded to those who may be caretakers and thus may only be part of one's family for a short period of time. Although this is a useful definition in practical situations, more formal definitions exist that are based on societal rules and expectations.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily Theory & Types of FamiliesDefinition of Family - Related Constructs, Inclusive Definitions, Theoretical Definitions, Situational Definitions, Normative Definitions, Conclusion