Strengthening Families During Times of Crisis

Working with children and families means that, at any given time, at least one, usually more, are experiencing a crisis situation. Whether families experience the unexpected loss of employment, a sudden sickness in the family, or have to shift into quarantine during an international pandemic, they are constantly needing to adapt to and navigate these life challenges. During these difficult times, some families might openly talk about their experience while others might be less than willing to let others know that they are in need due to fear of judgement, concern for their safety, or other factors that we may never know about.

Because the families that you serve might be hesitant to let you know that they are experiencing challenges in life, it is important to be proactive rather than reactive. Have strength-based supports available at all times, not only when a crisis arises.

While you might not know what families are living through, we, as early learning professionals, have a responsibility to support families in our efforts to teach and nurture their children. This month, our FE Tip focuses on the Strengthening Families Framework and the 5 Protective Factors, a way of providing support and empowerment to the families that you serve. By developing a deeper understanding of the research-informed strategies that are a part of this framework, we can move towards a well-rounded and strength-based approach to supporting families through times of crisis.

Strengthening Families and the 5 Protective Factors

Strengthening Families is a framework, informed by research, which focuses on the development of 5 Protective Factors that are critical to:

  • A family’s ability to cope with stressful situations
  • A family’s knowledge of how to support their child’s development
  • Protecting young children from child abuse, neglect, and maltreatment

Traditional support services focus on finding and fixing the problems that families face. The Strengthening Families Framework does the opposite. It supports the development of a strength-based approach. Rather than asking families what they need or what they are missing, Strengthening Families provides a framework for programs and educators to begin interactions by asking for and highlighting a family’s areas of strength. Such areas can include having a strong support system, knowledge of their community, access to educational opportunities, or a desire to identify the best educational opportunities available for their child. It is through the identification of those strengths that educators and families can work hand in hand to determine ways to use those existing strengths to address areas of need

What is a strength-based approach?

A strength-based approach is a way of interacting with families that is grounded in understanding and developing the strengths and capabilities of the families you serve.

It is a belief that “the problem is the problem; the person is not the problem”

Strengthening Families is not a curriculum that tells programs what to do and how to do it. Instead, it provides a foundation and approach to working with families that programs can build upon based on the unique families and communities that they serve

The Five Protective Factors

At the core of the Strengthening Families Framework are the 5 Protective Factors, which are “characteristics or strengths of individuals, families, communities or societies that act to mitigate risks and promote positive well-being and healthy development” (Center for the Study of Social Policy). These factors are the attributes, as identified in research, that help families successfully navigate challenging situations.

The 5 Protective Factors are:

  • Concrete support in times of need
  • Social connections
  • Knowledge of parenting and child development
  • Parental Resilience
  • Social and emotional competence of children

These Protective Factors provide a structure for professionals and programs as they seek to identify ways to support and empower families. They also offer a framework for public policy and systems development at the local, state and national level.

Strategies for Strengthening Families during Times of Crisis

To support families in having access to concrete support in times of need, programs can:

  • Create and distribute a virtual newsletter (using, e-mail, Mail Chimp or Google Docs, etc.) with general information about local resource organizations that support families of young children
  • Invite a community resource organization (monthly or quarterly) to a virtual family meeting to share information so families can learn more about the services offered through that organization. If possible, record these meetings and send the recording out to all families so those who could not attend live, still have access to the information.
  • Post relevant resources and support information on your program’s website or social media pages so families can access them as needed.

To support families in building social connections, programs can:

  • Host virtual “Coffee Connect” sessions (weekly, biweekly, or monthly) via an e-communications platform (like Zoom, Google Hangouts, or Skype) where families can log in and have conversations with one another, check in, discuss a pressing topic, etc. (over a cup of coffee)
  • Ask some of your parent leaders to connect virtually (through calling, Facetime, text message, or email) with families in your program to serve as a source of social support and connection

During times of stress, strong families:

  • Are able to be resourceful
  • Understand their rights in accessing eligible sources
  • Continue to be nurturing and emotionally available to their child
  • Continue to maintain a positive attitude
  • Maintain a sense of connectedness that promotes security and confidence

To learn more, visit:

To help families develop their knowledge of parenting and child development, programs can:

  • Create a virtual list of activities and on-line resources, aligned to the different ages and developmental milestones of the children in your care,that families can do with their children at home. You can also share resources via social media, text, or other communication platform directly with families.
  • Offer virtual family workshops on different topics that discuss the developmental milestones (physical, social, emotional, cognitive) of the children currently enrolled in the program

To build parental resilience among families, programs can:

  • Partner with a local mental health organization that can provide support to families (through workshops, individual counseling, resource sharing, etc.)
  • Provide (or host) virtual professional development opportunities for staff that focus on strength-based language, Strengthening Families, Trauma Informed Care, and supporting positive interactions with families
  • Send words of encouragement and positivity to families (through social media posts, via text messages, through email, etc.)

To support families in developing the social and emotional competence of children, programs can:

  • Host virtual social events for children and their families to provide an opportunity to engage in play together (ex: on-line play dates, literacy night, STEM night, Family Zumba)
  • Provide families with on-line information, resources, and activities related to social/emotional development and building healthy familial relationships

There are a variety of different ways to support the families in your program during challenging times. Having a strong relationship with families is key to knowing what they need, what resources and opportunities would help them meet those needs, and how to support and empower them to successfully navigate future challenges.

Watch the Lunch & Learn Webinar on this Family Engagement Tip!

Strengthening Families During Times of Crisis
May 26, 2020

This 1-hour “lunch & learn” session will explore how to use the Strengthening Families framework and the 5 Protective Factors to support families during times of crisis,