Family Economic Mobility Toolkit

Step 4: Examine Stressors

Stressors are challenges or obstacles that get in the way of families making progress toward their goals. Families show resilience as they deal with stressors and overcome obstacles.

It is important for staff to pay attention to how stress affects each family and the impact of stress on a family's goals.

Stressors can be big or small, external or internal. The more stressors a family is experiencing, the more overwhelmed they may feel. Even families coping with the regular stressors of daily life may find it difficult to set aside time or get in the mindset for planning and goal-setting.

Some stressors may be out of the family's control, or may be difficult to overcome in a short period of time, such as housing discrimination or lack of job opportunities in historically marginalized neighborhoods. Learn more about the history of oppression related to family economic mobility.

Even if a stressor feels too big or overwhelming, the goal-setting process can focus on small achievable steps — or objectives — and does not have to always be about big or long-term dreams. Goal-setting can be used as a way to identify, manage, and accomplish small steps that help families feel a sense of achievement, reduce stressors, and work toward greater stability.

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Sample Scenarios

Explore the scenarios below for real-world examples of how to identify and deal with stressors.

Scenario 1: A family hopes to save money but experiences a stressful financial emergency.

Opportunity: A car accident, suffering an illness or injury, experiencing a flood, or losing a job can result in a loss of income, housing instability, and food insecurity. Families dealing with these situations may need immediate assistance with economic stability to address their urgent concerns. In these situations, working with families on their most immediate priorities can help to decrease stress and increase stability.

Scenario 2: Gas and food prices are on the rise.

Opportunity: Families stressors are often external, such as inflation causing their cost of living to rise. Even if you cannot remove a stressor, staff can help families access resources and manage related stress. Ask permission to share local resources that may help with increased costs like local food pantries or public transportation discount programs.

Scenario 3: A family is worried they will not be able to find a job because of a language barrier.

Opportunity: Families may have other stressors related to their unique family circumstances that interfere with goal-setting. Even if you cannot remove a stressor, such as a language barrier, staff can still help families set goals and manage related stress. Have conversations with families to identify steps toward accessing language-learning programs, or show families how to use online translation services. Given support, family members may be able to overcome or reduce these stressors and move toward setting longer-term goals and dreams for their family.