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What's special about the family support approach?

Parents have told us that simply being accepted and trusted, and being given physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual support in the daunting task of parenting alone helped to give them strength at a time of crisis to move on with their life and make good long-term decisions for themselves and for their children

- Family resource practitioner

Family-level challenges require family-level solutions. Programs and services that are designed to improve outcomes for children benefit from the active participation of one or both parents. Family resource programs have a long history of attracting and engaging parents of young children, including those that may be marginalized and distrustful of public systems. How services are offered is considered even more important that what form they take, since it is the relationship between family and practitioner which defines the outcomes.

According to researchers C. Trivette and C. Dunst, interactions between service providers and program participants are effective in building capacity because they help family members to identify their needs, they provide supports and resources to meet these identified needs and they draw upon family strengths while developing new abilities.

The difference in a family resource program is that we serve the whole community. We know our families by name and are able to come alongside parents to support them. We can connect them to the community, giving them a sense of belonging and confidence. They are not a client or a caseload. We have the opportunity to change lives by speaking to the whole person.

- Family resource practitioner

Staff members at family resource programs build trust with participants through the development of warm and respectful relationships. Interactions are grounded in the belief everyone has something to offer and the strength to take an active part in finding their own solutions.

Some hallmarks of the family support approach:

  • Mutual aid or parent-to-parent support – participants are encouraged to value their own expertise and build their own social support networks
  • Facilitation, not instruction – awareness that basic needs should be addressed before parenting issues can be solved
  • Holistic approach, recognizing the interconnectedness of the multiple dimensions in families’ lives
  • Cultural sensitivity and respect for participants’ life stories
  • Flexibility, ability to respond to specific needs quickly.

This approach is captured in the Guiding Principles of Family Support.

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