Strengths-based practice has been defined as seeing people as "having potential and power" rather than being "at risk." It emphasizes opportunities, hopes, and solutions, with the home visitor as a partner to the family (Hammond, 2010).
A strengths perspective rests on five basic assumptions:
- Despite life's problems, all people possess strengths.
- Family motivation is encouraged by an emphasis on strengths.
- The discovery of family strengths occurs through a cooperative partnership between staff and families.
- A focus on strengths shows how the family has managed to navigate.
- All environments and situations—even the most bleak—contain strengths.
Early relationships must emphasize the strengths and resources of each participant. Everyone has strengths, even the newborn. Helping parents realize their own strengths and those of their infant builds their confidence and supports parent-infant interactions. This is not to obscure the fact that many families have significant needs. Rather, by building on strengths, trusting relationships that will make addressing families' needs more successful can be built (Head Start Bulletin No. 78).
You may use "effective strengths-based parent education, including methods to encourage parents as their child's first teachers" by:
Offering activities that support parent-child interaction and child development
- Providing information and resources for parents about the benefits of bilingualism and biliteracy for DLLs
- Noticing and building on the unique strengths of the parent and child rather than correcting weaknesses (e.g., "I noticed how he really wants to be held only by his mom, dad, and grandma. He feels very safe with each of you. What a lucky baby to have so many people who love him.")
- Helping parents reflect on outcomes by providing feedback and information to promote responsive parent-child interaction (e.g., "María smiles at you every time you engage her in conversation. She feels she matters to you.")
- Bringing a sense of wonder and discovery to learning about this child's ways of interacting with the world—a discovery you and the parents make together (e.g., "I wonder what she's thinking as she's stacking those egg cartons. Do you ever feel like you can tell what she is thinking?")
- Having a deep knowledge of child development as outlined in the ELOF and home-based curriculum, as well as ways to promote that knowledge with parents. For example:
- "He looks frustrated, but he also looks like he is trying to reach for that rattle. Maybe we can watch for a moment and see if he can get it. He's learning about what his body can do and pushing himself just a little bit because he wants that rattle."
- Paying attention to and commenting on the parents' resilience and protective factors. For one, they have demonstrated a commitment to their child by enrolling in your program. Parents want what is best for their child; even if they make choices with which you disagree
- Encouraging parents to pursue or continue their own education by working toward a general educational development (GED), vocational opportunity, or college degree, if it aligns with the family's vision
- Honoring parents' decisions not to pursue formal education, if it aligns with the family's vision
- Using the Head Start Parent, Family, and Community Engagement (PFCE) Framework to explore outcomes such as family well-being or families as lifelong educators
- Using program and community supports and resources, such as workforce development programs or the United Way, to promote progress on family and child development goals
- Genuinely sharing information and ideas as equal partners, valuing what the family offers
- Welcoming all families, and all family structures, sizes, and arrangements; for example, have:
- Forms say "parent/guardian/caregiver 1" and "parent/guardian 2" rather than "mom/dad"
- Photos of various families in your socialization space (e.g., single fathers with babies, grandparents, and same-sex couples)
- Initiating relationships with families that are receptive, responsive, and respectful
- Engaging in honest dialogue with families about their hopes, dreams, and needs while balancing staff and program objectives as well as what your program can do in partnership with them and where you can help them find other supportive resources
- Developing your own relationship-building knowledge and skills that are grounded in cross-cultural competence, responsiveness, and strengths-based perspectives
- Gaining knowledge about mental health, child development, and a variety of parenting practices, including unique ways to meaningfully engage fathers
- Reflecting on your own daily practice and personal experience to increase self-awareness and effective relationship building with families
Last Updated: June 11, 2019