Bridging the Gap
How Early Intervention can connect families to supportive community resources.
Stress and Parenting
Parents of a young child with a delay or disorder likely know that raising a child with a developmental difference presents unique moments that may be joyful or stressful. It is the joyful moments that tend to sustain families and become cherished memories. During more challenging times, it is a family’s use of resiliency, the ability to address and overcome difficulties, that help them persevere.
How does family resilience grow?
There are many ways that families build and maintain family resilience. First, studies have found families that have a high perceived self-efficacy tend to have a greater sense of family resiliency. Self-efficacy refers to a person or family’s belief that they can manage difficult situations. In other words, families that believe they can handle hardships tend to do better when they are dealing with them. Second, positive cognitive appraisals are also thought to influence family resiliency. Cognitive appraisals are the parent or family’s ability to think about a difficult situation and determine whether it is within or outside their control. Families that believe situations like care giving are outside of their control may experience high levels of stress. Families that believe situations are under their control build resiliency. Finally, social supports, such as emotional support, childcare, and community services, can help families build resilience through collaboration with their local communities.
Why study family resilience and early intervention?
Research has shown child behaviors may increase parent stress and parent stress may poorly impact child behaviors. Yet, stress is a normal experience in the lives of many families. The present study, Families as Partners: Supporting Family Resiliency through Early Intervention, considered how early intervention (EI) therapists can help families maximize their resilience to make participating in therapy less stressful. Their goals were to reduce parent stress and improve child behaviors. The researchers considered case studies of families of children with developmental differences, the roles of EI therapists in practice, and reviewed the current academic writing on family resilience. Then, they made recommendations based on their findings.
What did they recommend?
It was noted that EI therapists are already trained to administer many tests for young children that assess risk and monitor goal progress. Yet, assessments and monitoring for family resilience are rarely done in EI even though there are quick and easy to assess. The researchers recommended including questionnaires about family resilience within EI intervention practices. By having families answer questions about how they feel when dealing with difficult situations and how confident they are in accessing resources, therapists would be able to identify areas where families need additional resources and make appropriate referrals to community resources.
The resources researchers recommended included mindfulness-based therapy groups to teach meditation and breathing practices, referrals to parent groups or trained therapists, and family counseling services. Essentially, it was proposed that EI therapists could play a larger role in supporting service coordination for families of children with developmental differences. By understanding the challenges a specific family is facing and providing potential sources of relief, therapists should be able to help families reduce stress, engage more effectively in therapy, and improve child outcomes. Ultimately, the article suggested that families are resilient and capable of overcoming many different types of difficult experiences, but EI therapists are in a unique position to help facilitate further resilience for the families they serve.
Frantz, R., Hansen, S. G., Squires, J., & Machalicek, W. (2018). Families as Partners: Supporting Family Resiliency Through Early Intervention. Infants & Young Children, 31(1), 3-19.