Strengthening Families – A Strengths-Based Approach to Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect

 In Early Childhood Education

Michael Reisman, M.Ed.
Director, HCYMCA Early Childhood Education

April is Child Abuse Prevention & Awareness month. At YMCAs across the country, April 16-20 will mark the annual Five Days of Action to call attention to child sexual abuse and its ongoing prevention.  As a central participant to this work, the early childhood programs of the Y plan to share a variety of resources and information on the topic.  We will have tips for parents, a social media campaign acknowledging action, and we will also be sharing with the community some of the unique organizational policies in place at the Y to make sure we do all we can to prevent all forms of abuse in our centers and schools.

That is why I thought the timing to be perfect to introduce what I believe will be a recurring theme in my early childhood blog – the strengths-based approach.  Be it a strengths-based approach to developing leadership at the office, or a strengths-based approach to child-learning, the research supporting growth and development in human capacity via positives (strengths) rather than negatives (deficits) is mounting.  In this article I will touch on the Strengthening Families™ Protective Factors Framework, a strengths-based approach to supporting families in the community.

Strengthening Families™ is a research-based program developed by the Center for the Study of Social Policy for the purpose of building upon family strengths to further child development and reduce the likelihood of child abuse and neglect.  The Milford YMCA Preschool and HCYMCA Child Learning Center have been involved in Strengthening Families™ through our enrollment in the Grow NJ Kids Quality Ratings Program, facilitated by the professionals at NORWESCAP in Flemington.  As a result, in addition to our Y training as cause-driven leaders, we are trained to bring the Strengthening Families™ Protective Factors into our work with families on a daily basis.

In terms of the prevention of child abuse and neglect, Strengthening Families™ takes the unique approach that there are conditions within our power as parents and early childhood educators that can be affected to reverse possible paths that lead to abuse.  One of those conditions is stress.  When parents/primary caregivers are under challenging amounts of stress, the likelihood increases that the developmental, nutritional or even health/safety needs of the child(ren) could fall by the wayside, or even go unaddressed completely for periods of time.  When childcare agencies such as the HCYMCA Child Learning Center are attuned to the needs and immediate circumstances of our enrolled families, we are able to pick up on the conditions that make them vulnerable, and provide added support.  This may come in the form of a referral for a child development evaluation, additional childcare scholarship opportunities, or community resources to families who may not know what additional support is out there.  But most importantly, we are trained to listen and work with families based on what they already do well.  Just as we work with children based on where they are “at” developmentally, we work with whole families from the perspective of prior successes.  What is already working at home?  Who makes up your support system?  What have you already accomplished?  It is more than being empathetic, it is about reflecting opportunity and possibility back to someone who may be forgetting that he or she is, at core, a great parent and person.  In other words, as a strengths-based initiative, Strengthening Families™ is intended to, rather than fill deficient gaps, provide support so you, as a parent, can continue to do what you do well, and continue to better yourself and your family.

As a Strengthening Families™ program, our Milford YMCA Preschool and HCYMCA Child Learning Center are partners in establishing what are called the Protective Factors:

·       Parental Resilience – ability to manage adversity/unexpected challenge or trauma

·       Social Connections – positive relationships

·       Knowledge of Parenting and Child Development – understanding of strategies that support appropriate physical, cognitive, language, social, and emotional development

·       Concrete Support in Times of Need – access to concrete (actual) resources and services that address needs in order to minimize stress

·       Social and Emotional Competence of Children – interactions between adults and children that help children develop clear communication, emotional recognition, and positive relationships

As the foundation for the local, state-wide and national Strengthening Families™ initiative, these Protective Factors are a framework for change to allow children to be safe and thrive.  For more information please visit the following sites, which served as a resource for this article, or come chat with us in our offices at our schools.  Karin Smith, Sharon Klamik and I are always ready to sit down and listen.




Michael Reisman, M.Ed. is Director of Early Childhood Education for the Hunterdon County YMCA.  mreisman@hcymca.org  908-483-4623

For information regarding Round Valley Child Learning Center Programs call 908-236-0055, ext. 4605.  For the YMCA Milford Preschool, 908-995-9107

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