Why is Family Support Important?

by Virginia Howey

JUNE 26, 2018 – Parents and caregivers of families of all sizes, make-up, and cultures want what’s best for their children! I’ve been lucky to see this first-hand over the last several decades as I worked directly with families as a childcare provider, preschool teacher, Parents As Teachers Home Visitor and Supervisor, Executive Director of a local Family Resource Center and, the Family Resource Center Association’s Program and Member Services Director and now a contractor serving organizations all over our state. I’d like to share some of my personal observations and experiences of how family support has made a difference in a family’s ability to support their child’s early cognitive development and healthy social-emotional development. I will pose a question at the end of this blog. We want to hear from you. I hope you’ll join this important dialogue!

Family Support Twenty-Five Years Ago

I remember in 1990, a family with three young children that attended the preschool I ran. They had recently experienced an employment lay-off for the breadwinner in the family. Several months prior, the young family moved to our community when a large construction project began. They had been in town a short while and had not yet formed a strong local support system. They didn’t know what resources were available or whom to call first. When they did figure out whom to call, they were told to talk to someone else over and over again. Each resource (i.e., unemployment, Food Stamps, Child Health Plan, Head Start, WIC, housing assistance, utility assistance, etc.) had a different contact person, in a separate office, in a different location, and included different eligibility criteria. There was no one place to go for family-friendly comprehensive planning.

Several years after this occurred, I heard about a Family Resource Center (FRC) that had just opened in a neighboring town. As I learned about the mission of FRC’s, to provide family-friendly coordinated, case management services, I thought about all of the families I had worked with for nearly 20 years that could have benefitted greatly from such a resource. The concept behind the creation of FRCs in Colorado was to address the very issue experienced by the family described above.

Family Support Today

Family Support agencies and organizations have changed in the last 25 years, but families in crises can still find it very difficult to navigate the world of supports and services. The FRCs in Colorado continue to assist families in finding their way through services while setting goals to increase family and children’s well-being.

We have all seen a significant increase in research that supports the role of a nurturing, thriving family to support optimal early childhood outcomes. Just to quote one source:

We know that the way adult caregivers—parents in particular— interact with children during the early years can shape their brain architecture for life, for better and for worse. Children who have experienced nurturing and positive connections have more secure, healthy relationships and are more likely to do well academically and socially into adulthood than children who suffer insensitive or harsh caregiving.

  • What tools does a family need to provide a “nurturing and positive” environment?
  • How does a family experiencing unemployment, an eviction notice, a utility cut-off notice or any number of other challenges provide such as environment?

For those of us working in the Family Support field, we are regularly tasked with helping families find daily opportunities to do their best for their children, even when they are under stress. The diagram below gives us just a hint of all the different demands a parent/ caregiver must balance so that their family can thrive.

FRCA Member Family Resource Centers across Colorado. 29 organizations serve 46 counties and provide a family-friendly environment for families and access and referrals and direct services such as home visitation programs, parenting classes, early childhood programs, basic needs assistance, and more. An added service provided by these organizations is Family Development Services, which is a strength-based case management that helps families set and meet their own goals to increase their family and children’s well-being. FRC staff actively links families to other resources in the community and provides support during times of need to assure that families successfully access those resources. After short-term goals are met, families can set longer-term goals to achieve sustainable family stability and well-being.   Thriving families contribute to thriving communities!

Family Support in Action

I have seen so many great examples of family support, one family, in particular, comes to mind when I think about successfully integrating timely, comprehensive family support services: Marion*, was attending a parenting class at a local Family Resource Center. She shared during group networking time that she had just received a utility cut-off notice, did not have the money to pay her upcoming rent and had just been notified that her hours had been cut back at work so she didn’t know how she would afford groceries that week. Like most of us in a similar situation, she was panicking and didn’t know where to even begin addressing her multiple challenges. The instructor offered to meet with Marion and the Family Development Worker at this Center the next morning. Together, Marion and the Worker identified and prioritized her goals and the family’s most basic needs. Once the utility and rent bills were taken care of and she visited a food bank, Marion focused on longer-term goals such as gaining education and sustainable employment. She and her Worker developed a strong, trusted relationship and through committed and regular coordination of next steps over a two-year period, including coordination with several other support agencies, she achieved over twenty goals in different self-sufficiency domains (housing, education, childcare, transportation, parenting, and employment). Marion has since received her Certified Nurses Associate certification, which improved her income and, today her children are doing well in school. Marion is providing “nurturing and positive” environment for her children. The family even has a small, but growing, savings account so they are better prepared for unexpected situations.

  • How many similar families during those two years fell through the cracks?
  • Will those parents be able to provide a ‘nurturing and positive” environment for their children during a stressful period?

Local Family Support Efforts

Local communities across Colorado are working together more and more efficiently every year. Many communities are implementing an “any door is the right door” strategy for vulnerable families and children. For instance, in several communities across the state, service providers from multiple family support organizations come together regularly to coordinate their services and, in some cases, to pool their resources to meet emergency family needs such as food, utility or rental assistance, and share other long-term resources. These communities are not only maximizing their resources; they are assuring that fewer families are falling through the cracks by using easy, coordinated access to resources that match their needs without duplicating services.

What’s occurring in your community?

Question: What is your community doing to provide integrated Family Support Services so that fewer families fall through the cracks?  Please share your both your successes and challenges.

*Note:  All names, locations, and other identifying information has been changed/removed

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