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Recovering: Supporting Children and Families

Families who have experienced traumatic events like abuse or neglect need support. This lesson will continue to describe the protective factors framework introduced in Lesson One. It will provide strategies for strengthening all families including those affected by abuse or neglect.

  • Identify protective factors that prevent child abuse and neglect. 
  • Describe the stress factors related to family trauma.
  • Identify resources in your community for supporting families.
  • Describe ways to partner with families to identify and prevent child abuse and neglect.



Think about these three words: Safety, Stability, and Nurture. What do they mean? Think about a relationship in your own life that was represented by these three words. What did others in the relationship do that made it feel safe, stable, and nurturing? What impact did that relationship have on your life? Whether you recognize it or not, relationships like these likely shaped your outlook on the world and your ability to succeed. Let’s take a look at a few relationships that could be considered safe, stable, and nurturing.

  1. Chandra is just 6 weeks old. After a high-risk pregnancy and complicated delivery, Chandra’s mom, Jayne, is nervous about going back to work. As a single mom, she knows it is something she has to do. Jayne is happy that Chandra will have a space in a local family child care home. Several of her friends and coworkers use family child care providers also; in fact, one of her friends uses the same provider. She makes an appointment to meet the provider and tour the child care home that Chandra will enter next week. Jayne brings her mother with her on the visit. Jayne’s mother has been a big help since the baby was born. Jayne knows she can count on her to help whenever she can. Chandra sleeps peacefully in Jayne’s arms throughout the visit. When she wakes and begins to fuss, Jayne sings and soothes her. Grandma smiles and offers to hold the baby while Jayne completes paperwork. Jayne and her mother chat happily with the provider about Chandra’s routines, preferences, and temperament.   
  2. Charlotte was just about to turn 4 years old when her family received orders to move across the country for her father’s job. Charlotte was very excited about her upcoming birthday, but her mom and dad knew that the move would likely change some of their plans. Charlotte’s mom talked to a few other parents and arranged for her to have a “Skype” birthday party from her new home. As soon as they arrived at their new home, Charlotte’s parents saw a flier for a preschool play group at the recreation center. Charlotte and her parents went to the play group and met other families who lived on their street. Charlotte was thrilled that she had new “best friends” before she even started attending the new child development center.
  3. Ravi waits patiently after school for his father to pick him up from his family child care home. His mom is coming home tonight from a six-month deployment. He can hardly wait. He quickly glances out the window and sees his dad’s car pull into the driveway. He carefully picks up the artwork he created for his mom. It’s so precious to him that he won’t even put it in his book bag. As dad comes in, Ravi rushes over, hugs him while carefully protecting the artwork, and asks, “Is it time?” They drive together to the welcome site and chat about Ravi’s day, the preparations they made for mom, and the things they’ll do together over the next few days. 

Like all families, Chandra’s, Charlotte’s, and Ravi’s families have experienced some stress. Whether faced with single parenting, relocation, separation, financial stress, or job-related stress, strong families are resilient and bounce back. No matter what, they make sure their children have safe, stable, and nurturing relationships. Chandra’s mom has extended family support, close friends, and a strong bond with her infant. She is beginning to build a strong relationship with Chandra’s caregiver. Charlotte’s parents understand her emotional needs. They help her maintain connections with old friends and build new friendships. Ravi’s family communicates with one another, celebrates one another, and spends time connecting and reconnecting.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consider safe, stable, and nurturing relationships like these one of the “essentials of childhood.” Let’s explore how the CDC defines these three words.

  • Safety is “the extent to which a child is free from fear and secure from physical or psychological harm.” This means that adults protect child from harm. Adults regulate their own emotions and monitor children’s development.
  • Stability is “the degree of predictability and consistency in a child’s environment.” This means the child comes to learn that the world is a manageable place. Consistent family routines are one way stability is provided for children.
  • Nurture is “the extent to which a parent or caregiver is available and able to sensitively respond to and meet the needs of their child.”

Unfortunately, trauma (like abuse or neglect) can damage or destroy a child’s sense of safety, stability, and nurture. This affects development. Think about the children in your care. Do all of them have relationships that are safe, stable, and nurturing? Based on what you have learned already in this course, it is clear that for some children the answer is, “no.” We do not have to accept that as an answer. It is our job to help strengthen families and help each and every person look back on their childhood and answer, “yes.”

You can do this by being aware of the stressors affecting your families. Being involved in a suspected case of child abuse or neglect can bring a great deal of stress to a family. The rest of this lesson will focus on (a) the behaviors or issues you might see after a family has been involved in a report and (b) how to help families that have experienced this kind of trauma. Remember: any time you are uncomfortable or don’t know what to do, you can go to your family child care administrator for help. You do not need to face anything alone.

To reflect a little on how your role has a crucial, positive impact on children's trajectory, take a moment to watch Dr. Nadine Burke Harris' 16-minute TED Talk video about how childhood trauma affects long-term health. Follow the link below to see the talk:

A person’s support system will greatly impact their ability to be resilient. Safe, stable, and nurturing relationships provide a great support system. Resilience is seen in a person’s emotional and physiological response after a traumatic event occurs. Resilience is the ability that helps a family to navigate stressful situations, manage the effects of trauma and begin on a path of positive development. You can work to build resilience in yourself, students, and their families by utilizing protective factors.


Some family members who are involved in allegations of child abuse or neglect may have experienced trauma. This might mean they experienced abuse or neglect themselves as children, or they may be currently experiencing domestic or community violence.

Trauma can influence how a family interacts with you. Look for these characteristics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s publication Preventing Child Maltreatment (2013):

  • Families that have experienced trauma may find it difficult to build trusting relationships with you. It might not be easy for them to trust anyone.
  • Families might perceive aggression or danger where it does not exist. They may struggle with keeping themselves or their children safe. You might find yourself questioning their decision-making.
  • They may abuse drugs or alcohol.
  • They may have a hard time controlling their emotions.
  • They may seem numb or “shut down.”

Watch this video to learn more about supporting families affected by trauma.

Families that have Experienced Trauma

Learn about working with families that have experienced trauma


The following list of strategies is from Preventing Child Maltreatment and Promoting Well-Being: A Network for Action 2013 Resource Guide. Consider ways you can use these strategies to support families who have experienced trauma:

  • Talk to your coach or family child care administrator for support any time you have a concern about a family.
  • Understand that parents’ reactions (including anger, resentment, or avoidance) may be reactions to trauma. Do not take them personally.
  • Remember that parents who have experienced trauma are not “bad.” Blaming or judging them is likely to make the situation worse.
  • Recognize that all parents want their children to be safe and healthy. Compliment parents’ good decisions and healthy choices when you see them.
  • Stay calm and keep your voice as neutral and non-threatening as possible. Model direct and honest communication.
  • Be consistent. When you make a commitment, follow through.
  • Be aware that you could experience secondary traumatic stress, which can occur when you see or hear about trauma to others. Take care of yourself and take time to address your own reactions when you feel you are getting overwhelmed.
  • Promote the protective factors.

Just as this lesson opened with examples of children in safe, stable, and nurturing relationships, let’s end this lesson with an example of ways you can reduce stress in a family that has experienced trauma. Consider Kyle and his mother:

Kyle had experienced neglect in his home, and his mother is receiving help in the community after the report and investigation. You have noticed that Kyle is acting out much more than usual. At the end of the day when Kyle’s mom comes to pick him up, in a moment of frustration you say, “You need to sign this incident report. Kyle bit four other children today. If this keeps up, we may have to recommend another placement for him.”

Kyle’s mother breaks down in tears and says, “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’ve taken off so much time from work trying to be a better mom. If I lose child care, I’m afraid I’ll be fired. What am I going to do?” She pulls a crying Kyle out the door.

The next day when Kyle’s mom comes in, you rush up and say, “Good news! We had a few issues, but Kyle did much better today. We are making progress!” A smile comes across both Kyle’s and his mother’s face. You feel good knowing that just putting things in perspective can help reduce stress in the family.

Remember, you and the child’s family are partners. Be honest with the family and communicate how the child is doing while remembering to offer the family support. If a child is struggling, discuss ways you are supporting the child and what the family can do at home.


Based on what you learned in this lesson and throughout this course, write a different ending for Kate. At each critical time point in Kate’s story, think about what could have happened to change the family’s trajectory. Read and review the Case Study Reflection activity. Describe the resources, supports, or conversations that might have made a difference for Kate and her family. Share your responses with your family child care administrator. Then, review the suggested responses for additional reflection.


These tip sheets from the Strong and Thriving Families: 2019 Prevention Resource Guide are designed to be distributed to parents and caregivers to address a particular parenting concern or question. The information is easy to read and focuses on concrete strategies parents and caregivers can use to take care of their children and strengthen families. Each tip sheet is available in English and Spanish.  

Download and print the tip sheets that would be useful and relevant to the families that you serve. Create a family folder that you can use as a collection of resources for families. All of the VLS courses offer valuable resources that you can choose to add to your family folder. There are more resources found in the 2021/2022 Prevention Resource Guide for hosting conversations with families and engagement with the protective factors. You can use the information you gather to create program displays and share with families in your program and community. 

Spend some time reflecting on ways you can strengthen families. Read and review the Protective Factors Self-Assessment adapted from the Strengthening Families Program. Use it to reflect upon your interactions and relationships with families. To view full-length assessments and resources from the Center for the Study of Social Policy, please visit:


treating a child in a hurtful or abusive way
Process by which the child moves through a traumatic event, utilizing protective factors for support, and returning to “baseline” in terms of an emotional and physiological response to the stressor
Secondary traumatic stress:
an emotional and physical reaction to the traumatic experiences of others; for example, you might feel a great deal of stress on behalf of a child who is injured or in danger
a serious injury or shock (physical or emotional) to the body


Which of the following thoughts might get in the way of having a positive relationship with a family affected by child abuse or neglect?
You suspected Destin’s mom of child abuse and made a report. Several days later, Destin’s dad came to your house, furious, and removed Destin from your child care. What is the healthiest way for you to respond?
You have just made a report of suspected child abuse after months of observing Austin and noting minor concerns. Something happened this week that made you feel sick to your stomach. You made the report, but you still can’t stop thinking about it. You can’t sleep at night. You have no appetite, and you feel nervous all the time. What might be happening?
Why are safe, stable, and nurturing relationships considered “essential”?
Last year you suspected Jacque’s family of neglect and made a report. Since then, Jacque’s mother has seemed very disengaged from you at pickup. She seems to get angry very easily. Which of the following actions can help you support Jacque’s family?
References & Resources

American Academy of Pediatrics. (2021). Building Resilience.

Felitti, Vince J et al. (1998) Relationship of Childhood Abuse and Household Dysfunction to Many of the Leading Causes of Death in Adults. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 14, p 245-258. doi: 10.1016/S0749-3797(98)00017-8

Harris, Nadine Burke. (2014, September) Nadine Burke Harris: How Childhood Trauma Affects Health Across a Lifetime [Video file].

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (n.d.). Strategic Direction for Child Maltreatment Prevention: Preventing Child Maltreatment Through the Promotion of Safe, Stable, and Nurturing Relationships Between Children and Caregivers. 

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2013). Preventing Child Maltreatment and Promoting Well-Being: A Network for Action 2013 Resource Guide.

Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2019). Long-Term Consequences of Child Abuse and Neglect.