Strengthening Families and Protective Factors

Strengthening Families

Strengthening Families is a framework developed by Center for the Study of Social Policy over the last decade to prevent child abuse and neglect. This approach helps child welfare systems, early education and other programs work with parents to build protective factors.

These protective factors are:

To embed these protective factors into existing programs and systems, Center for the Study of Social Policy works with national organizations, states and federal partners. Children’s Trust is the partner in South Carolina.

The network is a forum for sharing knowledge and tools. Strengthening Families offers an extensive electronic library of research and information about programs that work, as well as a database of training opportunities across the country. Children’s Trust participates in learning circles, where we work with similar organizations to develop and implement action plans.


Protective Factors

Protective factors are conditions in families and communities that, when present, increase the health and well-being of children and families. They serve as buffers, helping parents who might otherwise be at risk of abusing their children to find resources, supports, or coping strategies that allow them to parent effectively, even under stress. Protective factors are the “positives” that strengthen all families, not just those at risk, so focusing on building protective factors helps make sure that families do not feel singled out or judged.

For years, researchers have been studying both the risk factors common among families experiencing abuse and neglect and those factors that protect families who are under stress. There is growing interest in understanding the complex ways in which these risk and protective factors interact within the context of a child’s family, community and society, and how they affect both the incidence and consequences of abuse and neglect. For each protective factor, the focus is on helping parents identify and build on their strengths and on empowering them to identify strategies for enhancing their parenting skills.

Parental resilience

How parents cope and problem solve affects their ability to deal effectively with everyday stress or a major crisis. Recognizing the signs of stress and knowing what to do about it can help parents build their capacity to cope. Families are strong and flexible.

Social connections

Identifying ways to help parents expand their social networks and build a broader base of parenting support is very important. Parents with an extensive network of family, friends and neighbors have better support in times of stress. Families need friends.

Concrete supports in times of need

Finding out what basic resources are available in the community and how to access them to address family-specific needs such as childcare, respite, housing, etc. will help families meet their basic needs and allow parents to attend to their role as parents. Families know how to find help.

Knowledge of parenting and of child and youth development

Information about what to anticipate as children develop and strategies for effective parenting will help parents learn what to look for at each age and how to help their children reach their full potential. Families know how children grow.

Social and emotional competence of your children

When children respect themselves, they will understand how to respect other people. When they feel powerful, they will not need to struggle for power. By helping young children understand their feelings and develop skills for relating to themselves and others, parents and teachers are consciously planting the seed for a safer, more peaceful, and more vibrant world. Families help children deal with feelings and emotions.


Are some protective factors more important than others?

All protective factors are beneficial, but research has demonstrated that the following two protective factors in particular are linked to a lower incidence of child abuse and neglect.

Nurturing and attachment

A child’s early experience of being nurtured and developing a bond with a caring adult affects all aspects of behavior and development. When parents and children have strong, warm feelings for one another, children develop trust that their parents will provide what they need to thrive, including love, acceptance, positive guidance and protection.

Knowledge of parenting and of child and youth development

Discipline is more effective when parents know how to set and enforce limits, encouraging appropriate behaviors based on the child’s age and level of development. Parents who understand how children grow and develop are better able to provide an environment where children can live up to their potential. Child abuse and neglect are often associated with a lack of understanding of basic child development and an inability to put that knowledge into action. Timely mentoring, coaching, advice and practice may be more useful to parents than information alone.


For more information

Strengthening Families
Center for Study of Social Policy

Enhancing Protective Factors
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services