Supporting Families in Crisis: Overview

Natural disasters, serious illness, layoffs, shootings, and family violence are crisis events that families may experience. Head Start staff, who routinely provide services to families, will find this information useful as it points out how Head Start supports families who may be experiencing a crisis. Crises can place families in unsafe situations. Head Start's role is to support and offer services to assist families experiencing crises.

The following is an excerpt from Supporting Families in Crisis.

It's a great satisfaction knowing that for a brief point in time you made a difference.

- Irene Natividad, Philippine American Political Activist

How can I support families in the Head Start Community that are experiencing crises?

At a minimum, I can act on the knowledge…

Natural disasters, serious illness, layoffs, shootings, and family violence are events that most of us read in the newspaper, see on television, or hear on the radio daily. However, these are not stories; they are actual events experienced by real families. In many of these highly stressful or traumatic situations, the lives of families are disrupted and basic family responsibilities may not be met. Often, it is at this time that families are thrust into crisis.

A crisis is an upset in a steady state causing a disruption or breakdown in an individual's or family's usual pattern of functioning. When families experience a crisis, they sometimes find that their usual ways of coping or problem solving do not work; as a result, they feel vulnerable, anxious, and overwhelmed. Without support, families may experience other crises.

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While Head Start staff may not see themselves as crisis prevention specialists, all supportive interactions with families have the potential to offset a family crisis. Staff support -- in all of its many forms -- helps families respond to stress-producing situations or events with adaptability.

Despite Head Start's supportive efforts, some Head Start families experience crises. Crises erupt whenever families find themselves unable to cope with or resolve stressful situations or events. Most simply stated, crises are times when families do not know how to overcome a major upset in their lives. Anxiety builds and takes its toll on all family members, leaving the family vulnerable to yet another crisis.

Head Start plays an essential crisis prevention and intervention role with families. Staff are well positioned to identify and respond to families facing highly stressful situations. Staff often serve as a support network in times of family instability, emergency, or crisis.

The role of Head Start staff is to recognize and assess the crisis situation, listen and provide assurance, and help the family use specialized resources in the broader community. In some cases, a Head Start staff member is the crisis intervention team leader. Whether staff provide the needed assistance or intervention, or refer families to community resources, they are key sources of support to the family.

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The Head Start Program Performance Standards direct Head Start programs to offer services, support, and referrals to the families of enrolled children and encourage staff to establish family and community partnerships that are responsive to the needs of children and families.

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"Supporting Families in Crisis: Overview." Supporting Families in Crisis. Training Guides for the Head Start Learning Community. DHHS/ACF/ACYF/HSB. 2000. English.

Last Reviewed: June 2009

Last Updated: June 19, 2013