Amplifying the Voices of Children & Families with the 3 Houses Tool

Real-life example of a completed Three Houses, used with permission from CASA Child Advocates of Montgomery County.

The Three Houses tool is a tool we use in Collaborative Family Engagement (CFE) as a way to help a person articulate what is currently working well in their lives (House of Good Things), what they are worried about (House of Worries) and what they dream about (House of Dreams).

While this tool can be useful for people of any age, it can be an especially handy exercise for CASA volunteers to do with children, as it can help them express complicated feelings, needs and desires.

From the creators of the tool: “The Three Houses tool is intended to help bring the voice of children, adults, young people, and families more fully into information gathering processes, assessments, and plans. It contains a simple graphic of three houses which are used to help individuals and families externalise and explore what is happening in their lives, particularly in relation to danger and harm, safety factors, and their hopes and dreams.”

When completing the tool, some people draw pictures in their three houses and some prefer to write—often there will be a little of both. You can also personalize the three images to appeal a young person’s interests. A train with three cars, or a pasture with three horses, three planets in space… the possibilities are endless! Whatever the maturity level, preferences and interests of the person completing the tool, the most important thing is to make sure they feel safe, comfortable and in control.

Some sample questions to help guide the person filling out the activity:

  • House of Good Things: What is good in your life right now? What people, or things, make you happy? What is good about your foster home? Who are the people in your family you like spending time with, and why?
  • House of Worries: What are you worried about? What’s going on in your life that doesn’t make you feel so good? Is there anything that’s making you feel sad, or scared, or worried at school? What about at your foster home? Can we put those in your house of worries?
  • House of Dreams: What are your hopes for the future? What are the important things you want to have happening in your life? If all of the worries were gone, what would you want your life to look like?

You can find additional sample questions, including more advanced questions for older youth and adults, in this guide.

Wondering which house to start with? We recommend leaving it up to the individual completing the tool. Once you get started, you might jump back and forth between houses, too—this is perfectly fine and natural. Keep a spirit of curiosity. If you can’t tell what a drawing is supposed to be, don’t try to interpret it. Ask something like: Can you explain what’s happening in this picture for me? Ask them if it’s okay if you add a note next to the picture explaining what it is. Most importantly, let them lead the way!

The Three Houses tool was developed by Nicki Weld and Sonja Parker. Click here for their in-depth guide on the tool and how to use it. You can also learn more about the Three Houses tool and other tools used in Collaborative Family Engagement (CFE) in our CFE Pocket Guide!