“Strengthening Families protective factors, if they are described in laymen’s terms, are very easy to wrap your hands around, and your heart around. They’re what everybody wants.” - Barbara, High Point Site

What is United Way Strengthening Families?

In 2008, United Way initiated a 10-year program designed to achieve the following goals by 2018:
  • Education – Cut the dropout rate in half by 2018. To accomplish this goal, UWW has developed a "cradle to career" agenda, built on its Success By 6 initiative, the nation's largest network of early childhood coalitions focused on improving school readiness and positive child development.
  • Income – Help people achieve financial stability, and get 1.9 million working families – half the number of lower-income families who are financially unstable – on the road to economic independence. Financial Stability efforts focus on helping low to moderate income individuals and families increase their personal income (e.g., taking advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit), build savings (e.g., savings campaigns), and gain and benefit from productive assets (e.g., Individual Development Accounts).
  • Health – Promote healthy lives, and increase by one-third the number of youth and adults who are healthy and avoid risky behaviors. Focus areas include increasing maternal and child health, decreasing childhood obesity, increasing physical activity and nutrition, and promoting healthy behavior.

To help accomplish these goals, United Way is mobilizing individuals and institutions nationwide to give, advocate, and volunteer for education, income, and health.

UWW is working with national partners and its network to weave the three impact areas together (Education, Financial Stability, Health) to ensure that communities support optimal development for children and families.

United Way Strengthening Families (UWSF) is a framework that guides local United Ways and communities in their development of initiatives designed to promote strong families, support healthy child development, and minimize the risk for child abuse and neglect. UWSF is funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and is based on the Strengthening Families approach developed by the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP). After a thorough review of the research the CSSP concluded that the following five protective factors contribute to strong families by addressing the challenges and difficulties parents face and providing them tools to resolve issues without violence or neglect:

  • Parental Resilience. Being strong and flexible every day and in times of crises.
  • Social Connections. Having people to provide emotional support and share parenting ideas.
  • Knowledge of Parenting and Child Development. Understanding how children grow and learn and what parenting skills fit what stages.
  • Concrete Support in Times of Need. Getting the help parents or children need in times of stress or crisis.
  • Social and Emotional Competence of Children. Developing the ability of children to communicate their feelings and enhance their social skills.
Some groups have identified a sixth protective factor which may also be useful in your community work:
  • Nurturing and Attachment. Parenting with love and respect supports the growth and positive life experiences of children.
Each of these protective factors offers families and children some defense against distress. However, together they combine to create a solid foundation of knowledge, parenting skills, and support that can help all families thrive during everyday circumstances as well as persevere during times of stress or crisis. See the Protective Factors section for a more detailed plain language description of each protective factor.


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