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Family Support Overview


Families represent the foundation of a society. When families are healthy and strong, communities thrive. There are many kinds of families, and therefore, many definitions of “family.” People who are significant to one another, whether related by blood, legal bonds, or bonds of friendship and community, may identify themselves as a family. Ultimately, “family” is self-defined.


The focus of the Family Support field is on families who are responsible for raising children. These families consist of at least one adult and one child who are related biologically, emotionally, or legally. Families may consist of one parent, two parents, grandparents, foster parents, legal guardians, or they may arise from a need for mutual support.


The history of the Family Support and Strengthening field in the United States goes back more than 100 years to the establishment of settlement houses in the late 1800s in major metropolitan areas such as Boston, New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. These settlement houses provided the large number of immigrants entering the country at that time with support, respect for their original cultures, job training, English classes, and social advocacy as a means to assist them in understanding, adapting to, and succeeding in American society.


Family Support as a term first emerged in the late 1970’s to describe welcoming local programs designed to support parents with young children through a variety of resources and services. As the modern version of settlement houses, these programs are voluntary and available for all families, many on a “drop-in” basis where parents do not need to sign up or pay for the opportunity to participate.


As previously defined by Family Support America, Family Support is all of the following:

  • An approach to strengthening families and communities so that they can foster the optimal development of children, youth, and adult family members.

  • A type of grassroots, community-based program designed to prevent family problems by strengthening parent-child relationships and providing whatever parents need in order to be good nurturers and providers.

  • A shift in human services delivery that encourages public and private agencies to work together and to become more preventative, responsive, flexible, family-focused, strengths-based, and holistic – and thus more effective.

  • A movement for social change that urges policymakers, service providers, parents, and employers to take responsibility for improving the lives of children and families and ensuring they get what they need to succeed.

Family Support is based on the premise that the primary responsibility for the development and well-being of children lies within the family, and that all segments of society must support families as they raise their children. Family Support services include a broad array of activities designed to strengthen families. They help parents to raise their children successfully, to become self-sufficient, and to take an active role in their communities.


The definitive history of the Family Support field authored by Judy Langford of the Center for the Study of Social Policy can be found here.

Good Samaritan Settlement House in San Francisco, CA founded in 1894

Good Samaritan Family Resource Center today


Family Support and Strengthening programs work with families in a multi-generational, strengths-based, family-centered approach to enhance parenting skills, foster the healthy development and well-being of children, youth, and families, prevent child abuse and neglect, increase school readiness, connect families to resources, develop parent and community leadership, engage males and fathers, support healthy marital and couples relationships, and promote family economic success.


Family Support and Strengthening programs may include parenting classes and support groups, life skills training, family activities, leadership development, links to community resources, family counseling, crisis intervention, and concrete supports such as food banks and clothing exchanges.

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