Family Support


Families have the skills, basic resources, and supports to nurture their children’s development and learning starting at birth and continuing through the early elementary grades.  These policies promote understanding of child development and engagement in children’s learning, the importance of home language and culture, responsive and culturally appropriate parenting, social networks of support, and the economic stability of families, because parents and families have the strongest influence on how children grow and develop.  

Policy Choices

  • Voluntary, evidence-based, home visiting programs for new and expectant families at risk for poor child outcomes  
  • Parent education and parent-child interaction programs that are linguistically and culturally appriopriate and support development and
 nurturing of infants and toddlers
  • Access to child care assistance for eligible families with provisions for quality and continuity of care
  • Effective outreach and enrollment in programs that promote family economic stability and parent participation in higher education
  • Prevention programs and services for children at risk of abuse and neglect and their families
  • Family engagement policies starting with defining family engagement, establishing benchmarks of success for targeted populations, and monitoring progress
  • Access to health care and education programs for children cared for by grandparents and other relative caregivers


Facts about Family Support

  • Even before a child is born, families set the stage for their development, which begins with adequate prenatal care and a healthy pregnancy.[i]
  • Strong families ensure that their young children receive adequate food, shelter and medical attention[ii] and also ensure that children live in safe and stimulating environments in which to explore and learn.[iii]
  • As children develop their skills and abilities through their relationships with those around them,[iv] the opportunity to form secure attachments with sensitive, nurturing parents (or other primary caregivers) are critical to both their cognitive and social-emotional growth.[v] A lack of a warm positive relationship with parents/caregivers increases the risk that children develop major behavioral and emotional problems, including substance abuse, antisocial behavior, and juvenile crime.[vi]
  • Factors such as poverty, low education and family stress can compromise parent-child relationship quality by limiting opportunities for stimulating and responsive interactions, provision of emotional support and exposure to activities that can enrich children’s health, knowledge and skills.[vii] Family support programs and services are designed to ensure that families are able to meet their needs and overcome stressors that may impair effective parenting. 
  • Overall, by helping families achieve self-sufficiency and function more effectively, support programs enable families to provide a nurturing environment that will foster the healthy development and school readiness of young children.[viii]


[i] Love, J.M., Kisker, E.E., Ross, C.M., Schochet, P.Z., Brooks-Gunn, J., Paulsell, D., Boller, K., Constantine, J., Vogel, C., Fuligni, A.S., Brady-Smith, C., (2002). Making a difference in the lives of infants and toddlers and their families: The impacts of Early Head Start, Executive Summary. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation.
[ii] Langford, J. (2009). The role of family support in an integrated early childhood system: Helping families get what they need to support their children’s development. Washington, DC: Center for the Study of Social Policy.
[iii] Cox, M. J. & Harter, K. S. M. (2003). Parent-Child Relationship. In Bornstein, M. et al. (Eds.),Well-Being: Positive Development Across the Life Course (pp. 191-204). Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
[iv] Shonkoff, J.P., & Phillips, D.A. (2000). From neurons to neighborhoods: The science of early childhood development. Washington, DC: National Academy Press Committee on Integrating the Science of Early Childhood Development.
[v] Ainsworth, M. (1979). Infant-mother attachment. American Psychologist, 34, 932-937.
Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and loss: Vol. 1. New York, NY: Basic
Dykas, M. J., & Cassidy, J. (2011). Attachment and the processing of social information across the life span: Theory and evidence. Psychological Bulletin, 137, 19-46.
[vi] A lack of a warm positive relationship also includes insecure attachment, harsh, inflexible, rigid, or inconsistent discipline practices; inadequate supervision of and involvement with children; marital conflict and breakdown; and parental psychopathology (particularly maternal depression).
[vi] Coie, J. D. (1996). Prevention of violence and antisocial behavior. In R. D. Peters & R. J. McMahon (Eds.), Preventing childhood disorders, substance abuse, and delinquency (pp. 1-18). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Loeber, R., & Farrington, D. P. (1998). Never too early, never too late: Risk factors and successful interventions for serious and violent juvenile offenders. Studies on Crime and Crime Prevention, 7(1), 7-30
[vii] Zaslow, M.J., Dion, M.R., Hair, E. Sargent, J. & Ahluwalia, S. (2001).  Maternal depressive symptoms and low literacy as potential barriers to employment in a sample of families receiving welfare: Are there two generational implications?  Women and Health, 32, 211-251.
[viii] National Center for Children in Poverty (2007). Family support: A key topic resource list. Retrieved from: on April 1, 2013.