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Strengthening Families

When you provide families opportunities to learn, to get involved, and to make decisions, you are strengthening their skills as parents and problem solvers. A strengths-based approach makes families more resourceful in dealing with stress and more adept at handling future challenges. A strengths-based approach gives families the skills they need today to be successful in the future.

  • Identify ways your program provides strengths-based opportunities for families.
  • Apply knowledge from this lesson to implement strengths-based strategies at your program.



When you and your staff utilize family-centered practices, relationships deepen and families become more engaged. Engagement with your program strengthens family functioning, as well as the developmental outcomes of their children. Through your actions and interactions, you promote protective factors by providing opportunities for families to promote better outcomes for their children, become more resilient in handling day-to-day challenges, and empowering them to fulfill their potential both individually and collectively.

Strengths-Based Approach

Utilizing a strengths-based approach means valuing the unique assets of each family and building on their strengths instead of focusing on their deficits. Encouraging your staff to focus on the positives rather that the negatives and looking for the “cans” instead of the “cannots” empowers families. A strengths-based approach strengthens families’ parenting competencies which are essential for healthy child and youth development.

The Center for the Study of Social Policy has developed the Strengthening Families Protective Factors Framework. Originally designed as a framework to prevent child abuse and neglect, the Protective Factors can be a useful way to approach all of your work with families. It is important to understand this framework because it can help you see that the high-quality, family-centered work that you do every day in your program makes a difference in the lives of children and families. Our job is not only to care for each child but also to provide care and support for the whole family. The Strengthening Families Protective Factors framework gives us ideas to support families.

Strengthening Families Protective Factors    
By the Center for the Study of Social Policy(Figure 1)

  1. Parental Resilience

    Families are able to manage stress and bounce back from challenges.

  2. Knowledge of Child Development and Parenting

    Adults know what to expect as children grow and are able to meet their child’s needs at each stage of development.

  3. Social Connections

    Families know there are people who care about them and who they can call on for help.

  4. Concrete Supports in Times of Need

    Families can get the help they need when crises strike: food and shelter, medical and mental health services, social, legal, and educational resources.

  5. Social and Emotional Competence of Children

    Social and emotional development promotes healthy relationships with others. Children with strong relationships, who can regulate their own behavior, express their emotions, and relate to others, are at lower risk of maltreatment.

You can learn more about the Protective Factors Framework by visiting

Competent Families

Competency, whether in cooking or using computer software, is developed over time and accompanied with trepidation. Parenting is no different. No amount of preparation can reduce the fear, anxiety or sheer magnitude of responsibility that accompanies the birth of a child. The most important aspect of parenting that has lifelong implications is the relationship between families and their children. Positive caregiver-child relationships lead to better outcomes for children. You and your staff support the competency of families through ongoing engagement and education.

Caregiver-Child Relationships

The way we were parented has shaped who we are and it can influence how we will parent our children. Our relationships and memories from our families, whether positive or negative, will affect our caregiver-child relationships. In this context, the caregiver is the child’s primary caretaker and can be a parent, grandparent, relative, or foster parent. All caregivers need support from time to time but it’s especially important for caregivers who had negative childhood experiences. They need support from people who build upon their strengths rather than their weaknesses. Changing habits that have been with people from childhood can be very difficult, even when changes are made, and old habits can return, especially in times of stress. It’s important that you help your staff understand that caregivers can become overwhelmed by all of the advice they receive, so providing information in non-threatening ways is a better approach.

Families interact with you and your staff, as well as with other families, every day. These interactions provide many teachable moments. Tone of voice and intentional word choices and phrasing all convey messages that support positive parenting practices. When caregivers hear your staff or other families speak in a pleasant tone and use phrases that work with children, they may begin to do the same. When caregivers hear teachers use positive statements like “use your words,” they can use that phrase instead of a negative statement like “don’t hit your sister.” When caregivers hear other caregivers give their children choices instead of ultimatums, they might do the same. Caregivers can learn a lot from the day-to-day modeling they see from your staff and other families.

Caregivers need information about child development and developmental milestones. Understanding what to expect can help families adapt their parenting practices as the needs of their children change. Understanding behavioral expectations and appropriate strategies for handling them is information all caregivers need in order to avoid using discipline strategies that can be ineffective and harmful. In addition to classes on child development, you can include classes on topics with which families identify. These classes should provide a working knowledge of the topic, concrete strategies for addressing the concern, and an opportunity to share successes and challenges. When caregivers hear others express the same concerns or frustrations, this camaraderie can help ease the isolation and stress that comes with parenting.

School Success

When you and your staff offer opportunities for family members to learn about their child’s development and education, you are supporting their role as their child’s first teacher and advocate. Children and youth need their families involved in their education. When families are engaged, children have better educational outcomes. In many cases a family’s first involvement with school will be with your program; engagement at your program sets the stage for future engagement.

When your staff encourages families to get involved in classroom activities, family members feel more connected. Learning and playing alongside their children is empowering. They come to know their children as learners, and this knowledge helps them understand what their child is expected to know and be able to do at each age. Through volunteering and participating in their child’s classroom, families get to see their child’s progress firsthand. They also get to observe the strategies teachers use to support their child’s development and learning. This firsthand knowledge can be very valuable when it comes to supporting learning objectives, handling challenging behaviors, or addressing potential learning difficulties. Being involved in the classroom takes away the surprise that many families feel during family-teacher conferences when they may hear of concerns for the first time, relieves the fear when asked to participate in an individual education plan, and eases the discomfort when there are behavioral concerns. Involvement in the classroom prepares families for these as well as other potentially uncomfortable educational encounters.

It’s important for your staff to understand that engagement can take many forms and the level of engagement can vary. If a family doesn’t get involved, it doesn’t mean they don’t care. There are many reasons why families may not get involved. Families come to your program with memories of their own school experiences. If those experiences were negative, they may transfer those feelings to your program and be hesitant to get involved. A little coaxing and providing meaningful opportunities to get involved on the part of your staff can help them feel more at ease. Asking them to share something they are passionate about or have expertise in with the class can be a good first step. A few positive experiences at your program can help families feel more comfortable with school involvement.

Another barrier to getting involved for families is time. Everyone is busy and the best-laid plans can go astray with competing priorities and demands. To accommodate busy lifestyles, offer families ways to be involved at home, such as making scrapbooks for the classroom or organizing a clean-up day for the program. When offered a variety of opportunities for involvement, families can choose the level of engagement that is best for them.

Competent Problem Solvers

Engagement supports the relationships families have with their children, their understanding of educational expectations, and their ability to become more skilled problem solvers. Problem-solving skills help families become more resilient and resourceful, which enhances family functioning and provides a stable base from which their children can grow and flourish.

While you can’t eliminate stress completely, you can provide opportunities for families to sharpen their problem-solving skills. These skills are developed over time and require practice. Good problem solvers gather information, weigh their options, create a plan, assess their efforts and make adjustments or ask for additional support, if necessary. These skills help you take control of adverse situations and draw on personal strengths to find solutions.

Participating in various group activities at your program strengthens the problem-solving skills of families. These activities can be formal or informal, such as your program’s parent advisory board, or other ad-hoc work groups, such as the redesign of a playground. It is important for your program provide multiple opportunities for families to work collaboratively to make decisions and find solutions. Connecting with others around a common concern or goal mobilizes the collective spirit, deepens relationships, and fulfils a sense of purpose. It is human nature to want to belong and to make a difference. There is no better place for families to experience a sense of belonging and the capability to make a difference than at your program.

Supervise & Support

There are many strategies that you and program professionals can utilize when it comes to strengthening families as caregivers and problem solvers. Listen as families describe how program staff and leaders support and strengthen them.

We Work With You

Strengthening families through engagement.

Opportunities to collaboratively participate in problem-solving activities at your program give families the experience they need in order to bounce back from life’s everyday challenges. When challenges are seen as obstacles that can be overcome, a feeling of optimism and competence is created. The more competent families feel, the more resilient they will become. Resilient families raise resilient children and youth.

Your program strengthens the parenting and problem-solving skills of families by:

  • Building and sustaining respectful and trusting relationships with families
  • Modeling effective strategies caregivers can use with their children
  • Utilizing the environment to support the development of social connections among families and staff
  • Soliciting input from families for training topics, workgroups, and activities; using this information in the development of your annual family participation plan
  • Creating a family participation plan that offers both formal and informal activities that are classroom specific and program wide; this information should be included in your enrollment packets and family handbook and distributed throughout your program
  • Providing professional development for staff on utilizing a strengths-based approach with families
  • Providing leadership seminars for families on topics such as team building, shared decision making, and advocacy
  • Using reflective supervision to support staff in their ongoing work with families
  • Ensuring that the information on family-information boards in every classroom is current, relevant, and aesthetically pleasing
  • Encouraging families to get involved; offering multiple ways that best fit their needs


Use the Family Engagement Checklist to reflect on and rate your own practices relative to strengthening and engaging families in your program.


It is important to help staff and families access resources. The tools below can help. Complete the Community Resources and Contact Information Sheet with information relevant to your program and post it in an area accessible to staff. You may want to keep copies of this document on hand and encourage staff members to add resources and contact information that they come across in their work and professional development.

Use the Lending Library Booklist to find resources to supplement your own program’s library. Printable web resources are included in the attachment.


Protective Factors:
Factors that research has identified as promoting optimal child and youth development. The Strengthening Families Approach utilizes five factors which include: parental resilience, social connections, concrete support in times of need, knowledge of parenting and child development, and social and emotional competence of children


Which of the following is considered a protective factor?
True or false? Your program has no influence on the competency of families.
Finish this statement: A strengths-based approach means…
References & Resources

Center for the Study of Social Policy (n.d.). Strengthening Families: A Protective Factors Framework.

Greenman, Jim. (1998). Places For Childhoods: Making Quality Happen In The Real World. Redmond, WA: Exchange Press Inc.

Harper Browne, C. (2014). The Strengthening Families Approach and Protective Factors Framework: Branching out and reaching deeper. Washington, D.C.: Center for the Study of Social Policy.