Family Support

Frequently Asked Questions

What is meant by 'family support'?

Family support is an approach used to provide services to children and families by recognizing that families are best served when all aspects of child and family development are considered. Using a strength-based strategy, family support builds on families’ strengths, skills, interests and abilities while promoting cooperative partnerships between parents and service providers. Service needs are determined by taking into consideration the situation of the entire family, not just an individual family member.

What are the core principles of family support?

The following core principles guide the family support approach:

  • Families are best served by comprehensive programs directed toward all aspects of individual and family development;
  • Families and service providers work as partners in the planning, delivery and evaluation of those services;
  • Families needs can be met best by developing and nurturing their inherent strengths;
  • Families deserve a realistic level of economic security;
  • Families receive the greatest benefit from flexible, accessible and comprehensive services delivered in a manner that affirms and respects their cultural, racial and linguistic identities;
  • Families are best served when intervention occurs as early as possible and is designed to give priority to prevention of family disintegration. Primary emphasis should be given to establish safe, nurturing environments that support the healthy growth of all family members;
  • Families deserve services that are coordinated and where special attention is given to ongoing accessibility to multiple services;
  • Families receive the greatest benefit from effective services delivered by a qualified, trained workforce, especially direct caregivers, frontline staff, and outreach workers, who are given professional recognition, support and appropriate compensation; and
  • Families are entitled to public and voluntary human service systems that work together and are accountable to society, each other and the people they serve.

How does family support differ from other ways services are typically delivered to children and families?

Traditionally, programs and services provided to children and families in the health and human services systems have focused on ensuring that an individual's needs are met, as opposed to the needs of the whole family. Services also typically have been provided only in time of crisis. In contract, a family support approach to service delivery is prevention-oriented and recognizes the need to provide supports that enable parents to be self-sufficient and provide stable, nurturing environments for their children, thus ensuring the best outcome for all family members.

What are the most common components of family support programs?

Programs that emphasize family support principles often incorporate many of the features listed below. Keep in mind program designs vary and every feature may not be available in all family support programs.

  • Life skills training—literacy, employment and vocational training opportunities, as well as general education and personal skills development (e.g., problem solving, budgeting) are offered to parents.
  • Parent classes and support groups—these tend to focus primarily on increasing parents’ knowledge of child development and child guidance techniques.
  • Drop-in time—provides an informal setting to spend time with other parents and program staff, allowing them to share experiences, success stories and such.
  • Childcare—parents participating in program activities and/or parents requiring respite may have access to childcare.
  • Information and referral services—parents are linked with a wide range of community-based resources.
  • Advocacy—activities focus on promoting family issues (e.g., improving access, quality and equitable services).
  • Crisis intervention and family counseling services— services made available to family members.
  • Auxiliary support services—services may include food pantries, clothing exchanges and assistance with transportation.

Is family support recognized as a promising practice?

Family support is an approach to service delivery and as such programs employing this approach do not adhere to a prescribed model. Instead, programs incorporate, to a varying degree, family support features, as described above. This flexibility allows program designers to develop programs that meet community needs and build on community resources. The trade-off is that a universal family support model that can be readily evaluated does not exist. However, programs integrating family support components have shown positive outcomes. An example of this is the Syracuse Family Development Research Project, which incorporated home visiting, parent training and education, and day care to families headed by low-income mothers with less than a high school education. Three years following program participation, program participants had higher cognitive and social/emotional ratings than non-participants; 10 years following program participation, 6 percent of youth who participated in the program as compared to 22 percent of youth not involved with the program had records with the juvenile justice system.

How can individuals master skills and competencies necessary to promote family support?

The Family Development Training and Credentialing Program (FDC) provides participants with the skills and competencies needed to empower families to attain a healthy self-reliance and interdependence with their communities. This training is recommended for frontline workers, such as home visitors, case managers, family resource center workers, community health workers and teacher aides. The Family Development credential is offered through Cornell University. For more information, contact: