The following talking points might be useful to those just starting a community wide strengthening families initiative, or when inviting new partners to join. They can be used with community groups or the media. Tailor your presentation to fit the unique circumstances. Engage your audience by inviting them to contribute their own ideas about how your community can better support families, and close with a clear call to action.
What do we know about protecting children?
- We all want to live in a prosperous, innovative, and healthy nation.
- Investing in child development is an investment in community and economic development.
- Getting prevention right early is less costly to society, and to individuals, than trying to fix things later.
- When a parent treats a child with respect, love, and understanding, it affects the child for a lifetime—making it easier to develop and keep friendships, succeed in school and work, sustain a happy marriage, and parent effectively.
- Unfortunately, many factors can limit parents’ ability to protect and nurture their children. These can put families at risk for abuse and neglect.
- Certain factors have been shown to serve as buffers against these risks, enhancing parents’ coping skills and helping them to raise happy, healthy children, even under stress.
What are the protective factors that strengthen families?
The best thing our community can do to protect children is to help strengthen families by promoting the following five protective factors:
Nurturing and attachment
Parents and caregivers who bond with and respond to the basic needs of their babies and young children lay the foundation for a positive and loving relationship. They also stimulate the growth of their child’s brain and help their child learn how to interact in positive ways with others.
Ways our community can promote parental nurturing and attachment:
- Sponsor workshops for caregivers on playing with infants and young children.
- Provide quiet, private places for mothers to breastfeed and for all caregivers to tend to their babies’ needs.
- Recognize local businesses with family-friendly policies, such as flexible work schedules, paid maternity/paternity leave, and paid family sick leave, that give parents time to bond with or care for their children.
Knowledge of parenting and of child and youth development
Helping parents learn about normal infant, childhood, and teen development will help them understand what to anticipate as their children grow and develop, and what types of support and discipline may work best at each stage.
Ways our community can enhance knowledge of parenting and of child and youth development:
- Supply local pediatricians with reproducible factsheets about child development that can be given to parents during well-child exams.
- Sponsor classes and support programs for new parents.
- Offer trainings for child care providers and teachers about key aspects of child development and the relationship between effective parenting and brain development.
- Disseminate information to the community about normal crying and activity levels of children at different ages to increase understanding and help reduce pressures on parents.
Parenting can be stressful, especially when parents are also managing work demands or unemployment, financial worries, illness, or difficulties with a spouse or others. Parents who have support and skills for managing stress will be better able to cope with day-to-day challenges.
Ways our community can strengthen parental resilience:
- Explore how local faith communities organize members to support new parents or other families under stress. Share effective models with other groups.
- Offer free or low-cost stress management classes at local community centers, businesses, or schools.
- Sponsor communication and conflict resolution classes for couples.
- Provide brochures and other resources for teachers and child care providers to share with parents who are under significant stress.
For most of us, family, friends, and neighbors form a network that provides social interaction, recreation, advice, and help. When parents have the opportunity to interact with, learn from, and seek the support of other adults, their children benefit.
Ways our community can help parents build social connections:
- Sponsor multigenerational activities like picnics and street fairs that reflect the community’s culture through music, food, and games. Involve parents in organizing these events.
- Recruit volunteers for mentoring programs such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, Befriend-a-Child, or Family to Family.
- Provide safe, accessible venues for young families to meet and socialize, such as libraries, parks, and preschools.
Concrete supports for parents
When parents are not employed or face other challenges, they may need assistance in order to provide adequate food, clothing, housing, and medical care for their children. These supports may reduce the stress parents feel in difficult circumstances, giving them more energy to nurture and support their children.
Ways our community can help ensure adequate concrete supports for families:
- Provide a communitywide “system of care” for families needing services, to ensure they do not fall through the cracks.
- Make information about accessing community resources (e.g., housing, health care, employment assistance) readily available no matter where families initially turn for services.
- Educate candidates and elected officials about issues in our community and the need for services and programs that support healthy and safe children and families.
- Encourage service providers to collaborate, leverage funding, and share resources to address specific needs.
Call to action: How can we work together to strengthen our community?
Mention some of the supports currently available in your community, including the efforts of your communitywide family strengthening partnership, if applicable.
Anything we do to strengthen and support families in our community helps reduce the likelihood of child abuse and neglect. This month and throughout the year, let’s focus our attention on prevention efforts that support parents and create healthier communities for children.
- Which needs are most urgent in our community?
- Which of the ideas we have talked about today would help address those needs?
- How can you help?