Families thrive when protective factors are robust in their lives and communities. To promote these protective factors, Alaska Children's Trust (ACT) endorses the Strengthening Families approach.
Strengthening Families is a research-based, cost-effective strategy to increase family strengths, enhance child development and reduce child abuse and neglect. It focuses on building five Protective Factors that also promote healthy outcomes. The five Protective Factors are:
- Parental resilience: No one can eliminate stress from parenting, but a parent’s capacity for resilience can affect how a parent deals with stress. Resilience is the ability to manage and bounce back from all types of challenges that emerge in every family’s life. It means finding ways to solve problems, building and sustaining trusting relationships including relationships with your own child, and knowing how to seek help when necessary.
- Social connections: Friends, family members, neighbors and community members provide emotional support, help solve problems, offer parenting advice and give concrete assistance to parents. Networks of support are essential to parents and also offer opportunities for people to “give back,” an important part of self-esteem as well as a benefit for the community. Isolated families may need extra help in reaching out to build positive relationships.
- Knowledge of parenting and child development: Accurate information about child development and appropriate expectations for children’s behavior at every age help parents see their children and youth in a positive light and promote their healthy development. Information can come from many sources, including family members as well as parent education classes and surfing the internet. Studies show information is most effective when it comes at the precise time parents need it to understand their own children. Parents who experienced harsh discipline or other negative childhood experiences may need extra help to change the parenting patterns they learned as children.
- Concrete support in times of need: Meeting basic economic needs like food, shelter, clothing and health care is essential for families to thrive. Likewise, when families encounter a crisis such as domestic violence, mental illness or substance abuse, adequate services and supports need to be in place to provide stability, treatment and help for family members to get through the crisis.
- Healthy social and emotional development of children: A child or youth’s ability to interact positively with others, self-regulate their behavior and effec¬tively communicate their feelings has a positive impact on their relationships with their family, other adults, and peers. Challenging behaviors or delayed development create extra stress for families, so early identification and assistance for both parents and children can head off negative results and keep development on track.
These five factors provide the children, parents, and the community with the tools they need to build resilience. In 2005, Alaska was one of seven states to be selected by the Center for the Study of Social Policy to pilot this approach. Now, over 30 states endorse the Strengthening Families approach.
For more information, visit www.strengtheningfamilies.alaska.gov and www.cssp.org.