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What do strong families need to thrive?

A look at the five protective factors that strengthen families

Carol Lee, Senior Editor

Five protective factors contribute to stronger families

Strong families have (at least) five things in common that help them keep their children safe and keep their family together when they face challenges. In child welfare language, these five things are called protective factors.

In a 2020 report, the Center for the Study of Social Policy identified these "community conditions" that strengthen children and families and help them thrive: parental resilience, social connections, knowledge of parenting and child development, concrete support in times of need, and social-emotional competence of children.


Parents manage stress and function well when faced with challenges, adversity, and trauma.

When parents know how to manage stress and stay calm in challenging times, they create a sense of calm in the home that helps their children know they’re safe. This is an essential skill they can teach their children. When their family was separated through foster care, Shaquita and Demond attended a Parenting After Trauma class at their local Bethany branch. What they learned gave them new options for managing stress, improving communication, and processing their own past trauma—changing how they related to their kids.

"In the heat of an argument, you’re not thinking about anything but that moment; but as parents, you can’t do that," Shaquita said. "You have to remember you have kids in the house who are watching you. Every moment, every movement, and every word coming out of your mouth. Now when we disagree, we go to our corners to cool off and then come back to clarify and talk about it. We learned how to do that both in couples counseling and in Parenting After Trauma at Bethany. That class brought up a lot from my own history of being in foster care and then my kids going through that too."

Watch a video about Shaquita and Demond's reunification story.


Parents build positive relationships that provide emotional, informational, instrumental, and spiritual support.

We believe every family deserves to be safe, loved, and connected because parents who have a safety net for themselves can create a safety net for their kids. That’s why we’re investing in parent cafés, creating space for parents to gather, build a support community, and know they’re not alone.

What makes parent cafés special is they are designed for parents, by parents. They're a space where parents can take off all the different hats they wear and just be a parent. They can listen and learn from each other, sharing their lived experience. And when they gather around a table, in-person or virtually, they share ideas, community resources, encouragement, and hope.

Our role at Bethany is to help create spaces for these important connections to happen and remove barriers so more parents can be involved. The parent café model can be customized to connect parents around topics they care about: dad cafés, parenting children with special needs, grandfamilies, and more. That social connection is key to giving parents a strong, supportive community.

See the Be Strong Families Parent Café model in action.


Parents understand child development and parenting strategies that support physical, cognitive, language, social, and emotional development.

As parents learn to create an emotionally safe environment for their children, they create new avenues of communication with their children that can strengthen their parent/child relationship.

Years after Alyssa fled her abusive husband, her teen daughter, Mia, struggled to process the trauma she and her family had experienced. Her behaviors became increasingly more self-destructive and unsafe. When Mia assaulted both her mom and younger brother, Alyssa had no choice but to call for help.

HOMEBUILDERS® provided four weeks of intensive services in their home, sometimes 1:1 with Mia and sometimes with the whole family. Together, they practiced communication, listening, critical thinking, and parenting skills to help Alyssa connect with her daughter and help the family resolve the conflict.

"Before Homebuilders, Mia would rarely talk to me," Alyssa said. "Once she felt comfortable and learned some skills to express herself, she began to open up. And I learned how to listen, to better understand what was going on with her and where she was coming from. I’m not worried about Mia running the streets anymore. She’s not thinking negative, suicidal thoughts anymore. She’s happier, and that makes me happier."

Learn how Homebuilders keeps families together.


Parents have access to support and/or services that address the family’s needs and help minimize stress caused by challenges.

In a crisis, a strong family knows where to go and who to ask for tangible help. Knowing they have someone to count on helps parents keep their kids safe.

When Thalia and her young son, Adrian, became homeless, she didn't have family or friends who could help her. They were sleeping in her car when Thalia turned to Safe Families for Children. Bethany provided volunteer host families to care for Adrian so Thalia could take the next steps toward stabilty for her family. And with those host families' encouragement, love, and support, Thalia finished school and found a job and an apartment so she and Adrian could safely be together, before Adrian was ever at risk of entering foster care.

"When I called Bethany, the very next day Mary Lynn took Adrian shopping and got some groceries for him—foods he liked to have in her home," Thalia said. "The support Mary Lynn offered me was family. I didn't have that before. I think that was my biggest obstacle at that time, not having a support system. Not having anyone there for me. My story isn't over yet. I know I may run into some speed bumps, but it's going to be OK. We're going to be OK."

See more of Thalia's Safe Families story.


Encourages family and child interactions that help children develop the ability to communicate clearly, recognize and regulate their emotions, and establish and maintain relationships.

Parenting young children isn’t easy. Parents can create safety for their children by learning skills and strategies to manage the most stressful situations. When parents live at high stress levels without necessary coping skills, that’s when they’re at the greatest risk of abusing or neglecting their children. That’s why three Bethany locations in Michigan have begun offering SafeCare, an evidence-based program that provides preventive, in-home coaching for parents and caregivers.

Part of the SafeCare model helps parents structure daily activities to increase positive interactions with young children and reduce difficult behaviors. Parents work with a SafeCare provider to identify specific parent/child interactions when parents feel the most stress, such as bedtime. Their SafeCare Provider observes behavior patterns, introduces new skills, models those skills, observes parents practicing new skills, and provides feedback. As they learn to increase structure and enhance positive interactions, parents also increase their ability to manage their emotions and stress. Modeling these skills to their children builds stronger parent/child relationships.

Learn more about SafeCare.


At Bethany, we believe in protecting children by strengthening families. Julie Paine—MSW, LCISW, and vice president of quality improvement innovation and training—shares this perspective on what kids need most:

Children need their parents to be OK, to be supported and well. If we care about kids, we must care about their parents. So the question we’re asking is, "How do we keep children safely WITH their families, not FROM their families?"

That’s why we’re expanding how we work with families to provide every child with what they need most—parents who can safely parent them. We’re working harder at listening to families and their communities, designing new ways of working together, and providing supports that are family-driven and culturally responsive. We’re changing how we talk about this work God invites us into, so it more fully represents His heart for people he loves.

And we’re working to support healthy child development where the whole family is at the center.

Your support changes lives