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Strengthening Families Alaska: State Profile 

Strengthening Families™ is a research-informed approach to increase family strengths, enhance child development and reduce the likelihood of child abuse and neglect. It is based on engaging families, programs and communities in building five protective factors:

  • Parental resilience
  • Social connections
  • Knowledge of parenting and child development
  • Concrete support in times of need
  • Social and emotional competence of children

Using the Strengthening Families Protective Factors Framework, more than 30 states are shifting policy and practice to help programs working with children and families focus on protective factors. States apply the Strengthening Families approach in early childhood, child welfare, child abuse prevention and other child and family serving systems.

Nationally, the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) coordinates Strengthening Families and works with more than a dozen national partner organizations to create a new vision in which communities, families, institutions, service systems and organizations:

  • Focus on protective and promotive factors
  • Recognize and support parents as decision-makers and leaders
  • Value the culture and unique assets of each family
  • Are mutually responsible for better outcomes for children, youth and families

For more information, visit www.strengtheningfamilies.net.

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Infrastructure

Alaska joined the Strengthening Families™ effort in 2005 as an original pilot state. With a very high rate of child abuse and neglect, Alaska policymakers were intrigued by the opportunity to approach prevention in a new, innovative way. The initiative’s original focus was on embedding Strengthening Families in early care and learning programs. Over the last several years, the reach has expanded to professional development systems, university programs, child protection services, schools and other service providers. Currently Strengthening Families is targeting multiple cohorts within the Strengthening Families statewide network: Norton Sound, Kodiak, Mat-Su, Bethel, Behavioral Health Aides, RurAL CAP early childhood programs, Pediatric practices and Early Care and Learning settings.

The program is coordinated by the Office of Children’s Services in the Department of Health & Social Services. From the beginning, the leadership team has included key decision-makers from a variety of programs. Current membership includes representatives from the University of Alaska, United Way of Anchorage, the Alaska Children’s Trust, the Department of Education and Early Development, the Head Start Collaboration Office, Title V & Women’s, Children’s & Family Health, the Child Care Program Office, the Early Childhood Comprehensive Systems (ECCS) Initiative, the Child Care Resource & Referral (CCR&R) Agency, the Early Intervention/Part C Program, Best Beginnings, the Child Welfare Academy, All Alaska Pediatric Partnership, Help Me Grow and Alaska 211. Parents are also important members of this leadership team.

Strengthening Families Alaska (SFA) has benefited from a variety of financial supporters: the Alaska Children’s Trust, Women's, Children's and Family Health Title V Block Grant, System for Early Education Development (SEED), Early Childhood Comprehensive Systems (ECCS) grant, United Way of Anchorage, Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, the Part C/Early Intervention Program and the National Alliance of Children’s Trust and Prevention Funds. In fiscal year (FY) 2012, Strengthening Families was awarded nearly $500,000 for a one-time expansion of programs through federal funds to the state. The 2017-2022 Early Childhood Comprehensive Systems Impact Grant has embedded Strengthening Families as a major mechanism for achieving goals in the three targeted areas of Norton Sound, Kodiak and Mat-Su. 

The Alaska Strengthening Families strategic plan includes policy and systems goals focused on including the Protective Factors Framework in grant requirements for a number of programs. Already the protective factors are embedded in grant solicitations from the United Way of Anchorage, the Alaska Children’s Trust, the Part C/Early Intervention program and the Child Protection Agency. The Alaska Early Childhood Coordinating Council has made the expansion of Strengthening Families one of their priorities.

Parent Partnerships

Parents are represented on the state leadership team and co-facilitate committees and workgroups. Strengthening Families programs are required to include parents on local leadership teams.

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Deepening Knowledge and Understanding

The Strengthening Families framework has been embedded in several professional development systems and is included in the Early Childhood Professional Development Core Knowledge document. Embedding the information in professional development efforts such as university courses, CCR&R training, workshops at regional conferences and specific training to organizations has been key. In 2012, the Protective Factors Framework was integrated into the training for child protection staff. The Child Welfare Academy at the University of Alaska is a key partner and provides a 2-day training entitled "Bringing the Protective Factors Framework to Life in Your Work" to programs and communities across the state. The Strengthening Families training is now incorporated in the 2016-2021 Early Childhood Comprehensive Systems Impact project.

Shifting Practice, Policies and Systems

From the very beginning, Alaska worked to embed Strengthening Families in early care and learning programs. 

As Strengthening Families Alaska matured, it expanded its reach into new systems and program service areas. Expansion has included reaching providers that are focused on school-aged children and their families, schools, child protective services, Part C/Early Intervention providers, home visitors, and mental health clinicians. Strengthening Families Alaska is now working with whole communities to embed this approach in their collective impact efforts to strengthen families and prevent child maltreatment.

Ensuring Accountability

Several major evaluations have been conducted on early childhood programs and community based services utilizing the Strengthening Families approach in Alaska. The evaluations have focused on changes in staff knowledge, program practice changes and resulting parent changes and benefits. All evaluations found significant improvements in program practices, staff knowledge and parental protective factors. An evaluation also examined the methodology used to support Strengthening Families programs. Regular coaching has been determined to be an especially effective method of creating real, lasting program change.

Evolving Work

Alaska will continue to support and deepen the work of existing programs and provide training and support to new programs and interested parties. Alaska will explore the alignment of Strengthening Families protective factors with Alaska Native values and the use of community conversations as a way to support the building of strong, supportive communities around the state. The Collective Impact Approach will be evaluated as a strategy for broad and lasting change in rural areas of the state.