Protective Factors: Concrete Support in Good Times and in Bad

As families in eastern North Carolina face cleaning up after the damage and devastation left in Hurricane Florence’s wake, it’s a good time to consider resilience. We’ve discussed 5 protective factors in the past that buffer and support children and families even during stressful times like these. It seems especially apt, given the disaster affecting our region to look closely at the fourth of these protective factors here: concrete support in good times and in bad.

Please realize that this article is not intended to trivialize the long road ahead that awaits so many—not in the least. Our message is not that hurricane refugees should be resilient and “look on the bright side.” Rather, we want this article to serve as a reminder to those suffering (because of the storm or for some other reason) that there is concrete family support available and as a call to action for those who are in a position to help to offer concrete support.

Strengthening Families Through Community

When parents are not overburdened with concern about meeting their family’s basic needs (for food, clothing, housing, and transportation), they have more time and energy to devote to their children’s well-being. When these basic needs are precarious or threatened, however, a parent’s ability to support her children’s development is deeply at risk.

No parent, who was living paycheck-to-paycheck before the hurricane and now faces months without a job because the business he worked for has been shuttered, for instance, is spending a lot of time thinking about whether Johnny is developing healthy social and emotional coping skills. No one has that kind of bandwidth.

Of course, every parent struggles with the question of whether she is providing her children with enough:

  • We worry about whether we give them enough rules.

  • We worry about whether we show them enough love.

  • We worry about whether we provide them with enough stuff. 

But when even basic needs are in question, these other types of worries are compounded and if children grow up in a home where basic needs are almost always in question, they face serious long-term negative effects to their development. Not to mention the psychological effects on parents in these situations. Not being or providing enough becomes a constant drumbeat echoing in the mind, instead of a passing thought relatively easily dismissed.

This is where calling on a community to come together to offer concrete family support can make all the difference. We most often think of reaching out or into our wallets in the aftermath of tragedy like that brought about by Florence and Matthew. However, parents, families, and children need to know they are supported in good times and in bad.

How We All Can Offer Family Support

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All parents can use a little help from their friends and communities. Even in the best of circumstances, parents need help with day-to-day childcare, help figuring out how to soothe a colicky baby, help getting to the emergency room after an accident, and help managing their emotions when a stressful event occurs. When faced with additional adversity, like losing a job, home foreclosure, substance abuse, not being able to feed their family, or trauma, parents need access to concrete family support and services to address these needs and minimize stress.

One good way to help a struggling family is to offer assistance in identifying, finding, and getting concrete support. When faced with overwhelmingly stressful conditions, we all need support. But seeking out help is always not an easy thing to do. Keep in mind that admitting we need help can feel like an admission of incompetence or that we are unable to solve our own problems or take care of ourselves and our families. While some fear others’ judgment, other parents may not seek family support because they don’t know where to go or how to find the services they need.

Additionally, many public services have a stigma associated with them, such as mental health clinics, substance abuse clinics, domestic violence shelters, and homeless shelters. Those accessing these types of services need reassurance and to understand their rights and learn how to navigate the system.

Individuals, as well as family support and child service programs should clearly communicate to parents that seeking help is not an indication of weakness or failure but rather that seeking help is actually a positive step toward improving one’s circumstances and learning to better manage stress and function well—even when faced with challenges, adversity, and trauma. When parents seek concrete support, it’s a huge step toward building resilience and teaching their children how to deal with life’s difficulties.

When parents seek out family support in the form of public assistance, it should be provided in a manner that does not increase stress. Services should be coordinated, respectful, caring, and strengths-based. These types of positive practices are grounded in the following beliefs:

  1. It is essential to forge a trusting relationship between parents and service providers and among service providers working with the same families.

  2. Regardless of the number or level of adverse conditions parents are experiencing, they have assets within and around them, their family, and their community that can be called upon to mitigate the impact of stressful conditions and created needed change.

  3. Parents have untapped resources and competencies that need to be identified, mobilized, and appreciated.

  4. Parents must be provided opportunities to participate actively in the change process, rather than passively receiving services.

  5. Parents must first be guided through and then, later, learn how to navigate the complex web of healthcare and social service systems.

  6. In addition to addressing each parent’s individual difficulties, strengths-based practitioners should understand—and work to change—structural inequalities and conditions that contribute to these difficulties.

With this type of approach, parents feel valued because those in the community acknowledge them as knowledgeable and competent. Parents develop a sense of self-confidence and self-efficacy because they have the opportunity to build their skills, experience success, and provide help to others. So, access to concrete family support in times of need should be accompanied by quality of service.

Coordination and delivery of services in a way that is designed to preserve parents’ dignity and promote healthy development, resilience, and the ability to advocate for themselves is the kind of essential concrete support families need. This is what the staff at the Exchange Family Center strives to offer.

If you are a parent or caregiver in need of concrete support, here are some resources to get you started. Have questions? Contact us today. We serve and offer free support to families in Durham and throughout the Triangle.