Adapted from the Center for the Study of Social Policy’s Strengthening Families Initiative
Successful family strengthening initiatives involve community leaders, agencies, and families working together to make lasting improvements to the community’s infrastructure. Partnerships are a great way to make communities more supportive of families and help ensure family health and safety.
Protective factors can serve as a helpful framework for community partnerships supporting stressed and vulnerable families. Many life events bring stress and risk into a family’s life—domestic violence, substance abuse, mental health issues, loss of a job, having a child with special needs, even just the process of entering into parenting. When the community works together to strengthen families by building protective factors, families are better able to create a safe and stable base that allows them to respond more effectively to issues that cause stress.
For example, conversations with families struggling with a child’s challenging behavior reveal that they often feel very isolated. Their child’s behavior can serve as a barrier to accessing both formal and informal supports and services. Parents may feel depressed or self-critical. In these cases, child-centered therapeutic services may be complemented by a broader array of supports that help the family build protective factors.
This section discusses how protective factors can further community prevention work and suggests some activities to support adoption of a communitywide protective-factors framework. The next section offers tips for engaging specific groups in support of a communitywide effort.
Using the Protective Factors
The protective factors can support your community-based prevention work in many ways. Protective factors can:
- Serve as a framework to help community partners understand what you can offer. Opening the conversation with a discussion around the protective factors will provide an opportunity to identify concrete collaborations that address issues for families under stress.
- Provide continuity for families. Families under stress often access services from multiple systems and service providers. When a protective-factors approach is used across these systems, it helps ensure a consistent experience for families.
- Provide a common set of outcomes. Each service system has its own set of goals for the families they serve and the services they provide. Often these goals are focused on preventing specific negative outcomes. Protective factors can provide a common framework for fostering positive outcomes for families across systems.
- Define a new audience and environment for prevention and family support activities. Traditional prevention activities can also help build the capacity of those who work with families on a day-to-day basis. For example, many family resource centers experience low utilization during the daytime, when many parents are working. This could be an ideal time to work with home-based child care providers who may need family support services themselves, and who can serve as an important channel to reach another set of families who may need support.