Families with Multiple and Complex needs

What are multiple and complex needs?

Terms linked to the concepts of multiple and complex needs and used by various disciplines include (Children’s Development Workforce Council 2011):

  • multiple disadvantage
  • multiple adversities
  • multiple disabilities
  • multiple impairments
  • dual diagnosis (that is, someone diagnosed as having more than one condition)
  • high support needs
  • complex health needs.

A definition of multiple and complex needs implies both:

  • breadth of need – multiple needs that are interrelated or interconnected.
  • depth of need – profound, severe, serious or intense needs (Rankin and Regan 2004).

Rather than use the term multiple and complex needs to describe a person’s characteristics, it is more helpful to use it to describe the array of problems confronting a person that frequently span social, economic and health issues, and as a framework for understanding and response.

People with complex needs may have to negotiate several issues in their life, such as physical or mental illness, substance abuse and disability. They may be living in deprived circumstances and lack access to suitable housing, employment or meaningful daily activities.

Each individual with multiple and complex needs has unique concerns tied closely to the interaction between his/her social, economic and health care needs, and so requires an individualised response.

Within child protection and family intervention work, the phrase ‘multiple and complex needs’ can be used to refer to families presenting with circumstances and behaviours that are having negative consequences for family members, particularly children.

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