December 15, 2020, 11:11am
Back in May, we looked at the Strengthening Families Framework and its relation to our Family Engagement work. As you may recall, it is grounded in taking a strengths-based approach to working with families, where relationship-building is intentional and based on trust. A key component is the idea of approaching family engagement with collaboration in mind, working together towards reaching a mutual set of goals that support the long-term success of our children and families.
This month, we focus on a specific Strengthening Families Protective Factor: Concrete Support in Times of Need.
Concrete support refers to resources and services that address a family’s needs and help to minimize the stress caused by difficult challenges and adversity. This type of support helps to ensure that families have access to the necessities that everyone deserves to grow up healthy and have the opportunity for a successful life.
Concrete supports come in many forms, including:
Strengthening Families Via Concrete Support
Raising a child and supporting a stable family environment requires families to meet numerous basic needs such as food, clothing, housing, and transportation to health and child care. In normal times, this is a lot to manage for many of the families we serve, but these challenges are even greater now.
When the adults in a family are stressed, this often causes stress in the children as well. However, when the support systems in a family’s life, such as friends, family members, educators, etc. provide information and connections to available resources that aid families in meeting their basic needs, it gives the family a great opportunity to find equilibrium and further thrive.
Why is it important for early educators to share concrete supports?
- Early educators have greater opportunities to support families’ needs earlier in life, when chances to affect long-term change are greatest.
- Early educators often engage more with families, due to the young age of the children; this allows for increased opportunities to build strong relationship with families and for families to feel more comfortable communicating when they need supports.
Opting for a Perspective vs. Prescriptive Approach
A prescriptive approach is one where we try to “diagnose” what we see is “wrong”
- Our biases come into play
- We reach ideas or solutions without including them
With a perspective approach, we seek to take a family’s point of view
- We consider their reality & think about their influences
- Interactions become strengths-based and collaborative in seeking a solutioP
"Families don't care what you know, until they know that you care."
Incorporating Family Voice
Determine families’ needs: It is important to gather information directly from families as to what kinds of resources or services they need. You can use formal and informal methods to conduct a needs-assessment (see the link at end of this article for some examples). Other ways to gather this information include surveys, conversations at pick-up time, phone calls, a drop-box, etc.
Take inventory of your families’ local knowledge: Families often have a wealth of knowledge about community resources, in addition to a valuable perspective. Ask them what other ideas or resources they know about and are worth sharing with other families. What resources/supports already exist in the community level that you may not be aware of? This same effort can be made with your program staff, who may live locally.
Be creative and collaborative: What communication methods have worked with families to share resources? Would hearing about another family’s success story in using a specific support encourage other families to explore more resources themselves? Keep in mind that when it comes to communicating with families, using multiple communication methods (i.e. text, e-mail, newsletter, social media, workshop, personal recommendation, etc.) helps ensure that all families are reached.
See the table below for ideas of how family voice can be involved at different levels. (Click image for PDF)
This method of engaging with families empowers their voice in addition to highlighting their community-based knowledge and bonds with other families. Based on the information gathered from families, we are now able to provide resources and supports to meet families’ needs more intentionally and effectively.
Sharing Resources in a Strengths-Based Way
As a general goal when working with families through a strengths-based approach, it is important to recognize what we bring to the interaction: our own ideas, biases, expectations, assumptions, emotions, judgement, etc. A strengths-based approach considers a family’s reality, taking their perspective. This is where taking a perspective vs. prescriptive approach in working with families is essential to shifting towards a strengths-based mindset.
Parents and families need experiences that enable them to understand their rights in accessing services, gain knowledge of relevant services and learn how to navigate through service systems. In working as family and child-serving programs, it is important to clearly communicate to parents that seeking help is not an indicator of weakness or failure as a parent.
Here are some tips for using a strengths-based approach to sharing resources with the families we serve:
- Use kind and reassuring tone
- Share resources in a positive way, that encourages the family to learn more
- Be both proactive and reactive; Reactive: assist families with immediate needs and Proactive: share valuable resources with all families in case others need the resource in the future.
- Make sure to share requested resources, not resources we may assume they need.
- Offer a private environment to speak, for their comfort and sense of safety (i.e. offer families a private room onsite to discuss needs, and call or e-mail supports)
- Go the extra mile to make the first connection between a parent/caregiver and a resource via a phone call, video call, or email, to help them begin navigating how to use the resource
- Follow up to see how the family’s experience with a resource turned out and if there are any additional ways we can provide support.
Providing families with support in a positive and strength-based way can help avoid adding stress to an already stressful situation and continue to build an even stronger relationship with the families we work with.
Methods of Sharing Information: In Person and Virtually
Once a needs-assessment is complete that includes family input, more relevant concrete supports can be shared. Some key points to consider when sharing resource information with families:
- Have resources available in multiple places – online and in person, via social media, program website, etc.
- Increase access by using different formats – consider different options such as flyers, text messages, videos, bulletin boards, podcasts, PDFs, etc.
- Keep it short and sweet – making the effort to be concise, clear, offer relevant information, and one main action point per message
- Translate for the target audience! – Ensure that communication methods include multiple languages as needed for the families served. Double check translations with a human or reliable sites like wordreference.com. Do not rely solely on Google Translate!
- Ensure the program team is onboard – make sure they have knowledge about the information being shared so they can answer questions if families reach out to them directly about a particular resource
- Update resource information regularly and make sure program staff is aware of updates. It helps to have a staff member to manage these periodic updates and designate time in staff meetings for them to be updated.
In these pandemic times, a hybrid of in person and digital communication resources are often our best bet. If you’re interested in a sample breakdown of how both in-person and digital communication methods can be incorporated in programs of various levels, see below. (Click image for PDF)
As with any approach, consider what your program and staff can sustainably implement for your families.
Concrete Support for Families in LA County
Here is a round-up of resources that families can use, for both difficult and normal times:
- Click here for a resource infographic with information about: Support Hubs, Food Support, Housing Assistance and Employment and Legal Assistance
- Click here for a resource infographic with information about Transportation, Mental and Physical Health, Domestic Violence/Abuse, and Regional Supports (Long Beach and Antelope Valley)
For more ideas on how you can provide concrete support to the families you serve, read Concrete Support in Times of Need (Center for the Study of Social Policy). Page 7 & 8 include more information as well as questions for a needs-assessment.
The approach we use to connect families to concrete supports is pivotal in developing a family’s knowledge of and ability to maneuver within support systems. A supported, connected family becomes a more resilient and successful family.
If you have a resource that you do not see listed here, please email me a link to the recommended resource at: Cristina.Espinoza@ccala.net.
Family Education Coordinator, Quality Start Los Angeles
Cristina Espinoza has worked as a family and youth development professional for 5 years, including having served as a Peace Corps Volunteer as a youth development promoter in Costa Rica. In conjunction with Quality Start Los Angeles, Cristina is passionate about supporting families to feel empowered in the changing landscape of their surroundings with their children’s wellbeing at the forefront. She is a champion of strengths-based systems and services that build resilient families and youth.