What IS Family Support?

What is Family Support?

Families want the best for their children, to nurture their growth and development. Families with children who have special needs want the same for their children, but often face additional challenges, including great stress, social isolation, and financial strain. Families may become overwhelmed, and find it difficult navigating the service system for their child, and to find social and emotional support for themselves. “Family Support” helps families access a broad array of supports and services, including formal supports (such as paid respite care) and informal supports (such as parent-to-parent connections) and a community system of services that promote the well-being of families and their children with special needs.

Family support aims to:

  • Increase the strength and resilience of families
  • Support parents as they help their children with special needs achieve their full potential
  • Improve community capacity to serve families with children who have special needs
  • Helps families make critical connections to other families and resources in the community
  • Provides individualized, family-driven support that respects family culture, values, and preferences

Family Support Programs work with families, communities, and service providers to promote and provide support for families with children who have special needs – which includes special health care needs, developmental and learning disabilities, and behavioral/mental health diagnoses.<--break->

photo of man and woman holding their childFamily Support includes:

  • Information about diagnoses, disabilities, and resources – how to find services
  • Parent-to-parent support – connection to others who have had similar experiences
  • Workshops and support groups – training and strategies you can use
  • Social activities – fun and recreation for the whole family
  • Family advocacy and policy development – involvement in shaping family and disability-related policies and services

How do Families and Children Benefit from Family Support?

Families find information and emotional support, and learn about enhancing their child’s development and well-being – all of which promotes improved outcomes for families and children.


  • Increases families’ level of knowledge about their child’s condition
  • Increases families’ feeling of competence in their caregiving
  • Connects parents with similar experiences
  • Fosters development of new social relationships
  • Reduces the sense of isolation
  • Provides opportunities for families to support others and to improve the service system

When do Families Seek Support?

Families with children ages birth to young adulthood seek family support for lots of reasons. Here are just some:

  • Understanding a new diagnosis
  • Infant born prematurely or in the NICU[Neonatal Intensive Care Unit]
  • Transition to early intervention, preschool, public school, post-secondary education or employment
  • Family moving to new locations
  • Finding local services and service providers
  • Advocating for educational rights and services
  • Financial planning for families with children who have special needs
  • Finding special services such as getting a ramp built or inclusive summer camps
  • Parenting education and strategies
  • Workplace support for employees with children who have special needs
  • Dealing with stigma and bullying
  • Balancing the needs of typically developing siblings

family reading story book

Families represent the foundation of society. When families are healthy, communities thrive. Family support encompasses a wide variety of services and opportunities to successfully navigate the day to day realities of parenting and functioning as a family unit. Family support services programs target families identified as most challenged. Supportive services and resources are to be made readily accessible to parents who demonstrate need, make an inquiry or request referrals. In a multi-generational, strengths-based and person-centered approach, support programs aim to enhance parenting skills, prevent abuse and neglect, increase school readiness, engage fathers, support healthy marital relationships and promote family economic success.

Based on the premise that the primary responsibility for the development and well-being of children lies within the family,  all segments of society must support them as they raise their children. Ultimately, supporting families is also supporting their children and society at large. Strong families give children a safe, secure place to be themselves and learn about who they are. Because children feel secure and loved, they have confidence to explore the world and try new things and learn. And they can deal better with challenges and setbacks because they know they have family support.

That last statement is however problematic. With or without family support, some setbacks and challenges are externally driven, through no fault of their own. Many are system-driven, structural and as a result of mindsets and practices. These are potential problems which can create challenges and barriers to success. Offering children and families to cope is often nonsensical, as they should be helped to heal, and systems must change and barriers eliminated. With that said, and looking forward, there must be an ever-evolving framework of culturally-responsive practices, services and systems in order that they become inclusive and equitable.  This is why we support the strengthening of all families!


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