The FES can be used to describe family social environments, to contrast parents’ and children’s perceptions, and to compare actual and preferred family climates. Adolescent siblings’ perceptions of their family can be compared with one another.
The scale can also be used to formulate clinical case descriptions, facilitate family counseling and psychotherapy, and teach clinicians and program evaluators about family systems. In addition, the FES has some important applications for program evaluation. The scale can be used to plan and monitor family change, evaluate the impact of counseling and other intervention programs, and help a family function more effectively. (For more information on uses of the FES, see Billings & Moos, 1983b; Finney & Moos, 1984; Moos & Moos, 1983.)
Although many applications of the FES focus on aggregate scores and on the family as a whole, the FES can also help clinicians and others whose primary interest is the individual, not the family as a whole. An individual profile reveals how a person views the family and his or her place in it. Unlike most assessment procedures, which may describe characteristics such as intelligence, personality, or interests, an individual FES profile reveals a person’s perceptions. Thus, as a source of unique information about the individual, the FES can enhance client assessment.
When Is an Assessment of a Family Useful?
Family assessments are most useful when a family is encountering a life crisis or transition or when it needs to change. These assessments can help people better understand their family, learn how other family members perceive the family, and become more aware of how their behavior and ways of coping affect the family.
Here are some examples of useful times to conduct an assessment:
• To diagnose problems. An assessment helps to analyze and understand the main types of problems in family functioning.
• Before change. An assessment done before a planned intervention (such as individual or family counseling or a parent effectiveness training program) sets a benchmark for measuring the impact of the intervention.
• To promote change. An assessment can contribute to the process of change. Just as biofeedback can alleviate headaches, feedback of information about the family climate is a powerful way to promote change.
• After change. An assessment helps in evaluating how a life transition, a life crisis, or an expected or unexpected change has affected the family (provided that comparable data were gathered before the change occurred).
• To appraise and improve parenting. Parents can obtain information about how well they have shaped the type of family climate they want.
• To strengthen the family unit. When a family tries to become a more cohesive unit, information about the family climate raises specific issues for discussion and negotiation.
• To identify risks. An assessment can identify families that place family members at risk for problems such as depression, alcohol abuse, or relapse after treatment for these disorders. An assessment can also identify families at risk for physical or sexual abuse.