Protective factors: What are they and how can they help families.

Research identifies six protective factors that can assist families in bouncing back from adversity.

Families today are faced with many stressful situations. Consider a typical adolescent whose parents are divorced; the father has left and does not provide support, while mom works two part time jobs that keep her away from the home and her paychecks barely cover essentials. The family has a limited support network as many relatives live out of state. Regular preventive medical and dental care is non-existent for many reasons. Transportation includes an unreliable vehicle that has seen better days. The rural area in which the family resides in has limited public transportation, so extracurricular activities at school are not possible. Housing consists of a rental unit in a complex of families in similar situations.

Experts might say that a teen in this situation has numerous risk factors: A single parent household, abandonment by their father, family poverty, inconsistent adult guidance and a limited support network. When risk factors for youth and adults tip the scale to one side, then it is important to consider protective factors that can level the scale.

According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, “protective factors are conditions or attributes in individuals, families, communities, or the larger society that, when present, mitigate or eliminate risk in families and communities that, when present, increase the health and well-being of children and families.”

The Center for the Study of Social Policy conducted research on what can work best to keep families strong and children safe, the findings were published as the Five Protective Factors. Since early research in 2002-2004, many states and organizations have added a sixth protective factor that includes social and emotional health.

The six protective factors that have been identified by the United States Department of Health and Human Services include:

  1. Nurturing and attachment
  2. Knowledge of parenting and child development
  3. Parental resilience
  4. Social connections
  5. Concrete supports for parents
  6. Social and emotional competence of children

Strengthening Families Illinois outlines the six protective factors as:

  1. Nurturing and attachment – Healthy parent and child relationships are when and where children receive the love and respect that they need each day.
  2. Knowledge of parenting and child development – Families need to know and understand that part of being a great parent is a natural instinct, but, part of it can be learned.
  3. Parental resilienceFamilies who are strong and flexible are better able to deal with the many stresses of everyday parenting and life.
  4. Social connections – All families need a network of trusted people; we all need good friends.
  5. Concrete supports – Families need to meet their own basic needs for food, clothing, housing, and transportation as well as know how and where to obtain services that include childcare, health care and mental health services.
  6. Social and emotional competence of children – Families teach skills that assist children in communicating their feelings, solving problems and interacting in a positive manner with other children and adults.

Many children who grow up in similar families and circumstances to the fictitious teen outlined above are able to overcome the weight of risk factors and are resilient, due to the six protective factors; finding the resources and support they need to assist to cope when they are under stress.

Michigan State University Extension recommends exploring programs in your community that can assist with ways to strengthen your family. Reach out to agencies and schools in your community that can help address your particular family and child concerns. Be an advocate for your children and for yourself. Take care of yourself; pay attention to your physical and mental health so you are strong enough to care for the children in your life. Strong families look for, ask for and follow through with finding resources and people who can help to support them and make them stronger.

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