Strengthening Families™ is a research-informed approach to increase family strengths, enhance child development and reduce the likelihood of child abuse and neglect. It is based on engaging families, programs and communities in building five protective factors:
- Parental resilience
- Social connections
- Knowledge of parenting and child development
- Concrete support in times of need
- Social and emotional competence of children
These key resources outline the Strengthening Families Approach. The topics below provide additional information, tools and resources for understanding more about Strengthening Families and the Protective Factors Framework.
- Strengthening Families 101: An introductory PowerPoint presentation
- The pathway to improved outcomes: Strengthening Families Logic Model
- Strengthening Families Overview (Prezi)
Overview of the Strengthening Families Website
The Center for the Study of Social Policy maintains a rich library of resources to support implementation of the Strengthening Families Protective Factors Framework. The website, www.strengtheningfamilies.net, has four main sections:
“About” includes everything you need to know about the Protective Factors Framework and how it is being implemented. Here you’ll find shareable documents and PowerPoint slides you can use to explain the Protective Factors Framework, the research behind Strengthening Families, the core functions of Strengthening Families implementation and how it is being implemented around the country. This section also includes profiles of state Strengthening Families initiatives and information about how national partner organizations are using the framework.
“Practice” includes tools to support aligning practice with the Protective Factors Framework, including the program self-assessment tools that provide inspiration for small but significant changes in how programs work with families. Also included here are “Making the Link” factsheets that explain how Strengthening Families can be used in conjunction with a number of evidence-based programs and practice models; information about building parent partnerships; links to resources for additional training about the Protective Factors Framework; and tools for ensuring accountability.
“Systems” includes a wealth of resources related to implementation in each of four key systems: early care and education, child abuse and neglect prevention, child welfare and home visiting. This section also includes tools and guidance for cross-systems leadership teams and materials you can use for reaching out to new partners in primary care, education and business.
“Policy” includes information about CSSP’s policy agenda and many issue briefs related to specific federal funding and policy initiatives over the years.
Protective Factors Framework
The five protective factors at the foundation of Strengthening Families are characteristics that have been shown to make positive outcomes more likely for young children and their families, and to reduce the likelihood of child abuse and neglect. Learn more about the research-based Protective Factors Framework below.
- Research briefs about each Strengthening Families Protective Factor
- PowerPoint Slides About the Protective Factors - Please use these slides in your own presentations about Strengthening Families, to describe each of the protective factors and the everyday actions that help families to build them.
- NEW - Protective Factors Action Sheets – Great for a handout at a Strengthening Families training, this packet includes the research brief about each protective factor as well as an “action sheet” for service providers about their role in supporting families to build each protective factor. The action sheets include what to look for, questions to ask and activities to do with parents related to each protective factor.
The Research Behind Strengthening Families
As a research-informed approach, Strengthening Families is the product of both foundational and ongoing research and knowledge development.
- The Research Behind Strengthening Families (PowerPoint)
- The Research Behind Strengthening Families(paper)
- The Strengthening Families Approach and Protective Factors Framework: Branching Out and Reaching Deeper
- Approach to Evidence
- The Strengthening Families Approach to Evidence - coming soon
- Expanding the Evidence Universe: Doing Better by Knowing More
- Original Strengthening Families literature review: Protective factors literature review: early care and education programs and the prevention of child abuse and neglect by Carol Horton
- A crosswalk of a research literature review from the Administration on Children, Youth and Families (ACYF) on protective factors to the Strengthening Families and Youth Thrive Protective Factors Framework and an overview of the alignment. In addition, the Child Welfare Information Gateway published an issue brief about ACYF’s literature review, the Centers for Disease Control's Essentials for Childhood framework and CSSP’s protective and promotive factors framework.
The National Quality Improvement Center on Early Childhood
Established in 2008, the National Quality Improvement Center on Early Childhood (QIC-EC) was a 5-year cooperative agreement between the Children’s Bureau and three partner organizations: Center for the Study of Social Policy (lead agency); National Alliance of Children’s Trust and Prevention Funds; and ZERO TO THREE: National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families.
The QIC-EC was established to test evidence-based and evidence-informed approaches that build protective factors and reduce risk factors in order to promote optimal child development, increase family strengths, and decrease the likelihood of abuse and neglect among infants and young children (ages birth to 5 years old). To this end, the QIC-EC funded four research and demonstration projects:
- Project DULCE: Developmental Understanding and Legal Collaboration for Everyone
- The Family Networks Project
- Fostering Hope: Concentrating Services in High Poverty Neighborhoods
- The Strong Start Study
The QIC-EC was funded by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children, Youth and Families, Office on Child Abuse and Neglect. The QIC-EC was supported by matching funds from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.
Strengthening Families in Action
Strengthening Families implementation takes place at multiple levels – in programs, in larger agencies, in systems, in states and communities and at the national level. Learn more about what that implementation looks like and about the core functions of implementation that run across all of those levels.
- Strengthening Families: An Overview
- About the Strengthening Families National Network
- Coordination of a Strengthening Families Initiative
Core Functions of Strengthening Families Implementation
At any level of implementation, attention must be paid to five core functions: building an infrastructure to advance and sustain the work; building parent partnerships; deepening knowledge and understanding of a protective factors approach; shifting practice, policy and systems to a protective factors approach; and ensuring accountability
- Overview handout
- Core Functions and Roles at Each Level of Strengthening Families Implementation
- Leadership Team Roles
Strengthening Families Summits
CSSP has convened four Strengthening Families Leadership Summits over the course of the initiative – in San Diego in 2007, in Atlanta in 2009, in Washington, DC in 2011 and in Chicago in 2014. We are not currently planning another Strengthening Families Summit.
The 4th Strengthening Families Summit was held October 7-8, 2014, in downtown Chicago. More than 425 leaders from around the country had an opportunity to share their experiences implementing Strengthening Families and to learn from one another.
State Strengthening Families Partners
More than 30 states have developed interdisciplinary leadership teams to implement Strengthening Families. While implementation differs greatly from state to state, there is a commitment in each jurisdiction to use every opportunity to increase the use of the Strengthening Families approach across agencies and programs. In addition to parent leaders, state leadership teams include representatives from child welfare, early childhood, maternal and child health, education, mental health, juvenile justice and sometimes corrections and legal services.
The map indicates states that are actively involved in the Strengthening Families National Network (dark blue) or implementing some Strengthening Families strategies at the state level (light blue). The profiles below offer an overview of the Strengthening Families work in specific states as well as additional information on key aspects, evaluation and evolving work.
Implementation in 2015 by Field
- Strengthening Families Implementation in Child Welfare
- Strengthening Families Implementation in Home Visiting
- Strengthening Families Implementation in Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention
- Strengthening Families Implementation in Early Care and Education
Leading and coordinating Strengthening Families efforts requires a cross-systems, collaborative approach. Learn about the core functions of implementing Strengthening Families at any level, find tools for reaching out to new partners and see other tools for leadership teams here.
National Strengthening Families Partners
CSSP has over a dozen national partners that support implementation of Strengthening Families approaches in multiple systems. Staff members from these organizations and agencies meet quarterly to exchange information and offer coordination and support for Strengthening Families. They are:
The BUILD Initiative works with early childhood leaders within states and nationally to better prepare young children to thrive and succeed. Specifically, the BUILD Initiative helps state leaders develop an early childhood system – programs, services and policies tailored to the needs of the state’s unique young child population. BUILD has taking the steps to introduce the family strengthening model to BUILD states, better understand the current climate around these issues and develop a plan for helping states move forward in integrating family strengthening and child abuse and neglect prevention into the early learning system building work. More recently members of an advisory committee convened by BUILD to explore issues of race and culture in early childhood systems helped to review and provide important input on revisions of the Strengthening Families self-assessment. Build is developing both an Equity Leaders Network for the early childhood field and a Learning Center on Health Equity and Young Children, both of which build upon the Strengthening Families framework and involve family and community engagement and leadership.
Child Care Aware® of America engages with, supports, and advocates for quality child care. Child Care Aware® of America provides critical information about the need for quality child care settings for all families through develops resources and tools for parents, providers and policy makers, and analyzes important data critical to crafting national solutions toward a more comprehensive approach to a national child care system. Child Care Aware® of America produces We Can Do Better; Child Care in America State Fact Sheets; and Parents and the High Cost of Child Care--the only publications available that rank states based on the relative strengths or weaknesses of their child care licensing regulations and oversight, critical benchmarks for a quality infant and toddler early learning system.
Child Care Aware is also the national organization that supports and links child care resource and referral (CCR&Rs) organizations across the country. CCR&R’s play an important role both in connecting parents to child care programs and building the capacity of local child care programs and providers. Across the country CCR&Rs have been playing an active role in supporting state Strengthening Families efforts.
Child Welfare Information Gateway, a service of the Children’s Bureau, promotes the safety, permanency and well-being of children and families by connecting child welfare, related professionals and concerned citizens to timely and essential information. Information Gateway along with the Children’s Bureau and its prevention partners develops and disseminates the annual Prevention Resource Guide to support professionals who work to prevent child maltreatment and promote social and emotional well-being. The Resource Guide focuses on protective factors that build family strengths and promote optimal child and youth development. Information Gateway also features a web section on Preventing Child Abuse & Neglect as well as the National Child Abuse Prevention Month microsite which provides links to information and resources about child abuse prevention.
FRIENDS is a national partner of the Strengthening Families Initiative. A number of CBCAP State Lead Agencies have implemented Strengthening Families based programs. To support their activities, FRIENDS has been working closely with CSSP and partner, the National Association of Children’s Trust and Prevention Funds, to support CBCAP organizations as they implement this initiative. This involvement has included providing training and technical assistance to CBCAP State Lead Agencies on this topic.
Help Me Grow is a unique, comprehensive, and integrated statewide system designed to address the need for early identification of children at risk for developmental and/or behavioral problems. The system then helps link these children and their families to community based services and supports. The Help Me Grow National network currently includes 23 affiliate states.
The Help Me Grow philosophy and system supports the Strengthening Families mission and protective factors. For example, in Knowledge of Parenting and Child Development, Help Me Grow supports families as their children’s first observers, teachers and advocates for optimal healthy development, while the system provides Concrete Support in Times of Need by connecting families to services, programs and opportunities where they live. See the policy brief by the National Center, “Help Me Grow Promotes Optimal Child Development by Enhancing Protective Factors,” for more details. Help Me Grow National is proud to be a partner of Strengthening Families.
- Making the Connection: A 4-minute video introduction to Help Me Grow
- Help Me Grow Washington: A Parent’s Story
Mosaic Network, Inc. is an implementation, research, evaluation, support and technology company with more than 15 years of experience evaluating local, state, national and international social, educational and human service programs. As one of CSSP's national partners, Mosaic created an online suite of tools to support programs and jurisdictions that are implementing the Strengthening Families Framework. These online tools include all the new program self-assessments, the Protective Factors Survey and staff survey. In addition, Mosaic helps administrators effectively implement the Strengthening Families Framework through a variety of service offerings including training and technical assistance, data analysis and reporting, integration with QRIS data systems, and expert consulting to align the QRIS parent engagement component with the Strengthening Families Framework.
NAEYC is the world’s largest organization working on behalf of young children. NAEYC has three broad goals: improving professional practice and working conditions in early childhood education; supporting early childhood programs by working to achieve a high-quality system of early childhood education; building a high-performing, inclusive organization of groups and individuals who are committed to promoting excellence in early childhood education for all young children. NAEYC was an early Strengthening Families partner working with CSSP to better understand early care and education professionals’ needs and priorities around child abuse and neglect prevention. NAEYC recently completed a study of the relationship between NAEYC Program Standards and Accreditation Criteria and the Strengthening Families Self-assessment.
The National Alliance of Children's Trust and Prevention Funds (Alliance) is a membership organization that supports and strengthens state Children’s Trust and Prevention Funds in their vital roles, promotes awareness of the importance of strengthening families to prevent child abuse and neglect, advocates for increased public and private funding for community-based child abuse and neglect prevention activities and collaborates with other national child abuse prevention organizations to help ensure the safety and well-being of children throughout the country.
The Alliance website is filled with resources and training tools created for state children’s trust and prevention funds (CTFs) and their partners. (See a summary of these resources.) CTFs across the country have been key conveners and implementers of the Strengthening Families™ Protective Factors Framework. The Alliance has partnered with CTFs to create resources that share the key concepts and learning from successful implementation of the Strengthening Families approach. All of these resources are freely available on the Alliance website:
- Bringing the Protective Factors to Life in Your Work - This online training is free of charge and includes 14 hours of professional development that is useful for knowledge and implementation of the Strengthening Families approach in diverse fields. More than 8,000 practitioners, parents and others have already participated in these courses.
- Resources for Action Series - These rich resources come directly from the work across states and jurisdictions to implement the Framework and are focused in four areas: Community and Family Engagement, Policy and Collaboration, Professional Development and Research.
- Research Review – Readers of this online resource will gain valuable knowledge from the 'Spotlight' section on multiple topics and the 'Savvy Practitioner' section that helps make research processes more accessible to those who are not trained researcher. Each edition includes valuable summaries on research findings and innovative approaches in the field of child abuse and neglect prevention.
- Preventing Child Neglect: It's More Than A Family Matter -The Alliance is conducting a targeted effort to raise visibility regarding the issue of child neglect and expand the national conversation about prevention. This work builds on the Alliance’s extensive work to promote the Protective Factors Framework.
Founded in 2011, the National Family Support Network (NFSN) is a membership-based organization comprised of statewide networks that focus on strengthening and supporting families. Each of these networks consists of two or more Family Resource Centers or Family Strengthening organizations. The mission of the NFSN is to connect statewide networks across the United States to promote quality practice, peer learning, mutual support, and effective policies and systems that support positive outcomes for children, families, and communities.
The vision of the NFSN is for a strong, cohesive national network of statewide family support & strengthening networks that collectively affects positive outcomes for children, families, and communities.
In order to achieve this mission and vision, the NFSN focuses primarily on three main areas of impact:
- Connecting and convening member networks to enhance their effectiveness - Increasing connectedness amongst members for peer learning and mutual support through annual national convenings, webinars, monthly phone meetings, bi-monthly e-newsletters, and networking.
- Promoting Family Support best practice and evaluation - Raising awareness of what quality Family Support is and promoting a common language, standards, and evaluation of it through the national implementation of the Standards of Quality for Family Strengthening & Support. These Standards are the first and only standards in the country to integrate and operationalize the Principles of Family Support Practice with the Strengthening Families Framework and its research-based evidence-informed five protective factors.
- Raising the visibility of the value and impact of Family Support and Strengthening networks in order to strengthen and increase support for families nationally– Highlighting both the need to support and strengthen families nationally and the effective, skilled networks, organizations, and workforce needed to do so, including promoting the establishment of networks in states without them.
Since 1969, Parents Anonymous® Inc. has been providing training, technical assistance, support and publications worldwide to promote, implement and evaluate its strength-based Parents Anonymous® Programs, including Parents Anonymous® weekly support groups for parents, children and youth, the National Parent Helpline® and Shared Leadership® in Action using the Strengthening Families approach. Parents Anonymous® Inc. Programs have demonstrated that shared leadership® ensures the achievement of the five protective factors. Parents Anonymous® Inc. is a major leader in promoting and implementing innovative shared leadership® strategies with parents, staff and policymakers to create systems reform, responsive social policies and effective community-based strategies to prevent child abuse and neglect. Parents Anonymous® has also produced a paper to demonstrate how the research on the effectiveness of the Parents Anonymous® Program to prevent child abuse and neglect provides valuable evidence for the Strengthening Families approach.
Parents as Teachers is committed to building strong families by embedding Strengthening Families Protective Factors throughout its work. Within the Parents as Teachers approach is a focus and emphasis on parent/family well-being; on strengths, capabilities and skills; and on building protective factors within the family. Strengthening Families protective factors are also interwoven within Parents as Teachers Knowledge Studio training and curricula, thereby having an even broader impact on children and families.
Prevent Child Abuse America, founded in Chicago in 1972, works to ensure the healthy development of children nationwide. The organization promotes that vision through a network of chapters in 50 states and nearly 600 Healthy Families America home visiting sites. A number of Prevent Child Abuse chapters are taking a leadership role in supporting Strengthening Families efforts in their states. To support their efforts, Prevent Child Abuse America and CSSP have partnered to build chapter awareness of Strengthening Families and the Protective Factors Framework. CSSP and Prevent Child Abuse America are also partners in Connect the Dots: Building a Movement for Children and Families, an effort to engage the public in making all of our communities places where children and families can thrive.
ZERO TO THREE (ZTT) is a national, nonprofit organization that provides parents, professionals and policymakers the knowledge and practical skills/strategies to nurture early development. Our mission is to ensure that all babies and toddlers have a strong start in life.
ZTT has been pleased to support the Strengthening Families Initiative through the exchange of information and resources in local communities, state wide and nationally. Specifically ZTT’s Promoting Responsive Relationships training, using the Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect (PCAN) curriculum, gives multi-disciplinary providers the knowledge and skills to help them adopt the protective factors identified in the Strengthening Families framework into their work with young children and families.
Given the widespread adoption of the protective factors across systems serving children and families, ZTT has incorporated the Strengthening Families protective factors in the 8 interactive, awareness raising and knowledge-building online lessons being piloted through the “Sharing the Care: Partnering to Promote Well-Being,” Doris Duke Charitable Foundation funded project.
ZTT partnered with the Minnesota Department of Human Services to develop the “Minnesota Café Facilitator Guide.” This Café guide is focused on building partnerships between parents/caregivers and child care providers by offering a format for having meaningful conversations within communities that promote the protective factors.
The History of Strengthening Families
- Overview of the Strengthening Families Website
- Protective Factors Framework
- The Research Behind Strengthening Families
- The National Quality Improvement Center on Early Childhood
- Strengthening Families in Action
- State Strengthening Families Partners
- National Strengthening Families Partners
- The History of Strengthening Families
Commitment to Equity
CSSP works to promote equity and reduce disparities based on race, ethnicity, sovereignty, gender, sexual orientation/gender identity and socioeconomics. Recognizing the central role that race has played historically in contributing to persistent inequities, CSSP identifies as an anti-racist organization, committed to confronting and addressing all forms of racism, particularly institutional and structural. Find out more with these FAQs.
You can also read more about the Alliance for Racial Equity in Child Welfare work and our Institutional Analysis tool - CSSP initiatives that are designed to help address disparities in child welfare systems.
Strengthening Families Speakers Registry
CSSP has compiled a list of speakers with expertise in the Strengthening Families approach, who can be a resource when you are looking for a speaker, moderator or panelist for a conference or workshop. These speakers come from a number of different fields and can provide an overview of Strengthening Families, along with the Protective Factors. To request a speaker, email Cailin O'Connor.