In 2001, with funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, CSSP began studying the role that early care and education programs nationwide could play in strengthening families and preventing abuse and neglect. For the first time, research about preventing child abuse and neglect was linked with similar knowledge about quality early care and education. CSSP developed a new conceptual framework and approach to preventing child abuse and neglect, called Strengthening Families, which involved building evidence-based protective factors around young children by working differently with their families. CSSP spent a year in the field learning in a structured way from exemplary programs and practitioners around the country about how to build protective factors on the ground. This knowledge base was used to develop tools to support early childhood programs, policymakers and advocates in making small but significant changes that build the protective factors.
Next, Strengthening Families moved into a pilot phase in which seven states engaged in a learning partnership with CSSP to implement the Strengthening Families approach. For two years, from 2005-2007, these states worked to enhance their policies and practices through collaboration among the early childhood, child abuse prevention and child protective services sectors. Their work was studied and documented to demonstrate how Strengthening Families can best be implemented through state policy making, new links between the early childhood education and child protection and training and support for programs.
In February 2008, the Strengthening Families National Network launched, linking 23 states interested in developing state Strengthening Families initiatives. Currently there are more than 35 states that are active in the Strengthening Families National Network and more than 40 that have statewide implementation at some level. There are also a dozen national partner organizations, like United Way World Wide and the FRIENDS National Resource Center, that support a Strengthening Families agenda with their own constituency. Strengthening Families is being implemented in a variety of sectors including early childhood, home visiting, child welfare, child abuse and neglect prevention and family support.