The Strengthening Families Program involves not just parents or children alone, but the whole family. It was developed specifically as a selective prevention strategy for 6 to 12 year old high-risk children of substance-abusing parents. In multiple replications with diverse ethnic groups in universal settings (schools, churches, neighborhoods), it has been found effective in reducing risk factors and increasing protective and resilience factors.
The most immediate results are improvements in children' s pro-social behaviors, mental status, and grades combined with reductions in aggression, violent behaviors, and substance use. Longitudinal follow-ups find reductions in alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs after up to five years.
The Strengthening Families Program (SFP) is a science-based family skills training program designed to increase resilience and reduce risk factors for behavioral, emotional, academic and social problems. SFP builds on protective factors by improving family relationships, parenting skills, and improving the youth' s social and life skills.
SFP has been modified for African American families, Asian/Pacific Islanders, Hispanic and American Indian families, rural families, and families with early teens. Although originally developed for children of high-risk substance abusers, SFP is widely used with non-substance abusing parents.
What Strengthening Families Does:
- Benefits ALL families.
- Builds on family strengths, buffers risk, and promotes better outcomes.
- Builds on and can be integrated into existing programs, strategies, systems and community opportunities.
- Can be implemented through small but significant changes in everyday actions.
- Is grounded in research, practice and implementation knowledge.
The Protective Factors Framework
Five Protective Factors are the foundation of the Strengthening Families Approach: parental resilience, social connections, concrete support in times of need, knowledge of parenting and child development, and social and emotional competence of children. Research studies support the common-sense notion that when these Protective Factors are well established in a family, the likelihood of child abuse and neglect diminishes.
Research shows that these protective factors are also “promotive” factors that build family strengths and a family environment that promotes optimal child and youth development. Strengthening Families is a research-based, cost-effective strategy to increase family strengths, enhance child development and reduce child abuse and neglect.
No one can eliminate stress from parenting, but a parent’s capacity for resilience can affect how a parent deals with stress. Resilience is the ability to manage and bounce back from all types of challenges that emerge in every family’s life. It means finding ways to solve problems, building and sustaining trusting relationships including relationships with your own child, and knowing how to seek help when necessary.
Friends, family members, neighbors and community members provide emotional support, help solve problems, offer parenting advice and give concrete assistance to parents. Networks of support are essential to parents and also offer opportunities for people to “give back”, an important part of self- esteem as well as a benefit for the community. Isolated families may need extra help in reaching out to build positive relationships.
Concrete Support in Times of Need
Meeting basic economic needs like food, shelter, clothing and health care is essential for families to thrive. Likewise, when families encounter a crisis such as domestic violence, mental illness or substance abuse, adequate services and supports need to be in place to provide stability, treatment and help for family members to get through the crisis.
Knowledge of Parenting and Child Development
Accurate information about child development and appropriate expectations for children’s behavior at every age help parents see their children and youth in a positive light and promote their healthy development. Information can come from many sources, including family members as well as parent education classes and surfing the internet. Studies show information is most effective when it comes at the precise time parents need it to understand their own children. Parents who experienced harsh discipline or other negative childhood experiences may need extra help to change the parenting patterns they learned as children.
Social and Emotional Competence of Children
A child or youth’s ability to interact positively with others, self-regulate their behavior and effectively communicate their feelings has a positive impact on their relationships with their family, other adults, and peers. Challenging behaviors or delayed development create extra stress for families, so early identification and assistance for both parents and children can head off negative results and keep development on track.