Family well-being occurs when all family members are safe, healthy, and have chances for educational advancement and economic mobility.
A state of well-being helps children and families thrive. 1 In response, Head Start and Early Head Start make supporting family well-being a key part of its mission. "Family Well-Being and Families as Learners" is one of the program's relationship-based competencies.
This resource explores strengthening the well-being of families and children. It lists the specific knowledge and skills needed when focusing on the family well-being aspect of this competency. You'll also find descriptions of practices for applying the knowledge and skills in your work with families. Each section ends with reflective questions to support your growth as a professional.
The Role of Family Services Professionals and Home Visitors
As a family services professional or home visitor, you play an important role in your Head Start or Early Head Start program. Your job gives you unique and powerful opportunities to build positive and goal-oriented relationships with families. These relationships can support the well-being of families.
Families experience well-being when all family members are safe and healthy. Opportunities for educational advancement and economic mobility also contribute to a family's well-being.2 These kinds of basic needs include access to community resources and services (e.g., housing, nutrition programs, health, mental health care). With these in place, children are more likely to show signs of positive development in their language, cognitive, and social-emotional skills.3,4
Systemic Barriers to Well-being
Many families face barriers to accessing these needed services. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, many Black, Indigenous, and Hispanic/Latinx families and families who are new to the United States had less access to quality physical and mental health care and other family support services compared to white families. These inequities were due largely to institutional racism and discrimination.
As the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains, "COVID-19 has exposed decades, if not centuries, of inequities that have systematically undermined the physical, social, material, and emotional health of racial and ethnic minority groups."5 Such inequities can reduce the availability of services for families with young children, which leads to distrust in service systems, and they can weaken family engagement.6,7
During the pandemic, people of color have also experienced higher rates of infection and serious illness, financial difficulties, and mental health challenges.8 The stress caused by chronic adversity and trauma — including historical trauma — can negatively impact families' well-being. In addition, negative experiences with public systems (e.g., health care, immigration, justice and law enforcement, child welfare) can reduce the comfort and trust that families have in the services available to support their well-being.9
Relationship-based Competencies Guiding Family Services Professionals and Home Visitors
The RBCs guide family services professionals and home visitors in the knowledge, skills, and practices they need to support family engagement. The competencies involved in promoting "Family Well-Being and Families as Learners" require the knowledge and skills listed below.
Knowledge About Family Well-being
A family services professional or home visitor:
- Knows how to recognize family resilience, strengths and resources, unique gifts and talents, and what families already do to maintain family well-being and cope with challenges
- Understands that children's healthy development is related to family well-being and family goals for themselves and their children
- Knows the signs of depression, trauma, substance use, homelessness, domestic violence, child maltreatment, food insecurity, mental illness, and other challenges to family well-being
- Knows about laws and regulations that support and protect families and their children
- Knows about resources in the community to support families' safety, health, mental health, financial stability, economic mobility, and educational growth; and asks others for referral information when needed
- Understands the importance of asking their supervisor or colleagues for support on issues that are beyond their current professional skills and knowledge
- Knows what steps to take and who to talk with if child or family safety may be threatened
- Understands how to identify dangerous situations and how to ensure one's own safety when out in the community and working in families' homes
Skills for Supporting Family Well-being
A family services professional or home visitor:
- Applies information about families' strengths, talents, cultures, languages, aspirations, resources, challenges, needs, and goals to their work with families
- Uses a supportive and nonjudgmental approach when talking with families about difficult or sensitive topics
- Recognizes the importance of taking time for self-care, for staff's own well-being and for the well-being of others, especially when supporting families in crisis
- Expresses kindness, warmth, and compassion when families are overwhelmed by challenges, trauma, or stress
- Seeks support from their supervisor or colleagues on how to successfully engage families in difficult conversations
- Provides information about and connects families with community and cultural opportunities that use and build on families' strengths and support their safety, financial literacy, economic mobility, educational growth, health, and other aspects to their well-being
- Works with families in a collaborative goal-setting process to identify their goals and available resources and to plan steps toward achieving their goals
- Works with families to identify education, training, and employment opportunities to advance their economic mobility
- Talks with families about indicators of healthy relationships and identifies related social supports and other resources
Practices for Supporting Family Well-being
Family services professionals and home visitors can use the practices below to support family well-being. There is a description of each practice followed by examples of how to use it. All practices should be based on strengths-based attitudes and relationship-based practices that are responsive to each family's race, ethnicity, language, and culture.
- Practice Area 1: Check In and Partner with Families
- Practice Area 2: Make Safety a Priority for Families and Self
- Practice Area 3: Develop Short- and Long-Term Well-being Goals
- Practice Area 4: Connect Families with Additional Supports
- Practice Area 5: Respect Family Privacy and Confidentiality
Resource Type: Article
National Centers: Parent, Family and Community Engagement
Audience: Family Service Workers
Last Updated: October 2, 2023