The strengths of the family are the elements
most useful for helping families achieve their
hopes for the future. When we keep a focus on
family strengths, we learn the good news about
families. Family talents and capacities define
our work, not labels or categories that imply
deficits in family functioning.
There are many types of family strengths.
Some family strengths include: adaptability,
cohesion, humor, willingness to try, and
networks of support. Any provider will find
strengths in all areas of family life including
family interests and activities; extended family
and friends; religious, spiritual or cultural
beliefs; family values and rules; employment and
education; emotional or psychological
well-being; physical health and nutrition;
shelter and safety; income or money; and family
Head Start staff can become proficient at
drawing out family strengths by: 1) believing
that family strengths exist; 2) having
conversations, not interviews, with the family;
3) asking the family process questions; 4)
talking with the family about everyday things
and listening to their responses; and 5)
identifying and celebrating the family's
A strength-oriented staff-family partnership
is most likely achieved by Head Start staff
exhibiting the following characteristics:
- Recognizing that they are the family's
Most helpers come to the family
partnership-building process with their own
expectations of what will be accomplished.
However, in doing so, they are not adhering
to the role of family partner. It is
important to let the family set the agenda.
- Trusting the family.
Each family member has its own unique set
of experiences. The judgments, observations,
and recommendations of family members
deserve our attention and trust; they are
based on a track record that precedes Head
Start involvement with the family.
- Working with the family.
Head Start families have invited us, or
accepted a request from us, to be part of a
process that is already going on in their
lives. Working together in all aspects of
what is being planned for a family is the
way we show our respect for that privilege.
- Showing flexibility.
Our own family history shapes our
expectations about what families should be
like. However, to form an effective family
partnership, we must begin with and work
toward meeting the family's expectations for
its future. We also show flexibility by
adapting our schedule to the family's
schedule, whether or not family members are
- Relating to the family as people.
Using a style of interaction that is both
comfortable for us and for the families we
work with helps to communicate the message:
"We all want to be treated as people. No one
wants to be treated as a case."
- Looking at the whole picture.
One individual does not make a family.
One event does not make a history. We must
always be aware of how easily that knowledge
can slip away, unless we maintain a focus on
the whole family picture.
- Displaying creativity and enthusiasm.
There are many ways to accomplish the
same thing. Creativity - finding different
views of the same family picture or
different paths to the same goal - produces
a lively, strength-oriented family
Mobilizing Family Strengths
Mobilizing family strengths requires a
special set of staff skills. Two key skills are
reframing and identifying key players.
Reframing means "building new windows"
around families through an emphasis on
family strengths; this means using language
that reinforces family strengths, teaching
families how to use their strengths, and
encouraging success in families through a
focus on what they can do. reframing
emphasizes strengths by:
- Using language that shows respect for
- Avoiding language that may be offensive
to the family; and
- Using "people first" language such as
"a family experiencing stress" instead of "a
stressed out family," or "a child with
disabilities" instead of a "disabled child."
When working with families, many times
staff fall into deficit-oriented patterns,
which we can change through the skill of
reframing. First, we tend to label
families and then think they can't improve
their lives. For example, when we
use words such as "lazy," "dysfunctional,"
"unmotivated," and "uncooperative" to
describe families, we are, in effect, saying
the families' situations are unworkable.
We're not seeing the family as
people, nor are we seeing the
whole family picture. In
contrast, when we use the skill of
reframing, we see the family as people with
skills, talents, and capacities - we
emphasize what the family does well.
Second, we tend to do too much
for families. This is because it is
easier to do things for families than to
help them to do things for themselves. When
we use the skill of reframing, we encourage
families to use their strengths to achieve
what they want in life, taking one small
step at a time.
Finally, we tend to pay too much
attention to family problems.
Dealing with problems takes so much of our
time and energy that we fail to build on
family strengths. We don't pay enough
attention to what families can do
or what families could accomplish.
When we use the skill of reframing, we build
on family strengths by encouraging families
to pursue areas that have high chances for
success - areas that will give the families
(and us) positive feedback for what they do
- Identifying Key Players
Key players, as supports for families,
can have significant roles in helping
families achieve their hopes for a better
life. Identifying key players in the lives
of Head Start families is a critical first
step toward mobilizing family strengths. Key
- Are personally invested in the family;
- Are involved in the family's daily life
in natural ways;
- Are accessible during times when the
family is together; that is, after the work
day and on weekends;
- Feel close to the family/have emotional
ties to the family;
- Expect the family to have a life a good
life and thereby bring enthusiasm to help
the family move forward; and
- Show an unwavering commitment to the
Staff's role in involving key players in
efforts to support the family will vary,
depending upon each family's needs and
desires.. For some families, involving key
players in staff-family partnerships may be
necessary and desired. Other families may
only need encouragement to be able to turn
to key players for specific types of
The time involved in identifying key
players - people who know the family best -
is time well spent. The outcome of the
process is likely to contribute
significantly to the family's success in