There is a 6th ‘Protective Factor’ that Enhances the Strength of Families- Where is it?

There are 5 identified protective factors considered vital components of strengths which contribute to overall family wellness. There are likewise risk factors that compromise family wellness and challenge family capacity to thrive absent neglect/abuse or disruptions of any kind. Since practitioners are encouraged to be solution-focused and strengths-based in their approach to working with families, the risk factors aren’t really emphasized. We aim to increase and enhance their strengths through the identification of these five protective factors.

dad watching her daughter make a christmas letter

Those 5 research-based and evidence-informed protective factors, created a common language across programs purposed with supporting and strengthening families. These factors are:

Parental resilience. It is managing stress when faced with adversity, trauma and other challenges. It differentiates between life stressors and parenting stressors.
Social connections. They are positive relationships that offer information, emotional, spiritual and instrumental[tangible] supports. It is integral to social capital and building ‘community’.
Knowledge of parenting and childhood development. Understanding parenting and child development strategies that support cognitive, physical, language and social and emotional development.
Concrete support in times of need. It is access to concrete services and supports that address the family’s needs and help minimize stress caused by challenges.
Social and emotional competence of children. This means the family and child interactions that help children develop the ability to communicate clearly, recognize and regulate their emotions and establish and maintain relationships.

These 5 factors are overlapping, interdependent and intersect with one another. All families have unique strengths and protective factors from which to build. When there appears to be an absence of one of these strengths, it will impact the perception of all others. However, it falls upon practitioners, agencies and service providers to recognize these factors as existing within the family. They must possess the capacity to identify these factors, absent immaculate perceptions.

I would like to suggest another protective factor never given sufficient recognition on its own. Yet intersecting and interrelated, this other factor is uniquely impactful and influential to all other factors. One factor, is rarely, if ever, given consideration in the fields of education, medicine, justice systems, social services… That is cultural self-knowledge. Self-knowledge is the cultural heritage, history, traditions and values. These are important as part determinants of behavior, attitudes and family dynamics.

All families do not have or hold the same cultural values or experiences in life. We aren’t all White Anglo-Saxon Protestant[WASP]. Not every family lives as middle class suburbanites. Therefore, the lens must be flexible.

Challenges and experiences are quite different between whites and blacks or poor whites and poor blacks, although both families may live at the same income levels.
In most cases, whites at any income level are treated differently, face different challenges and possess cultural knowledge and awareness. What is taught and learned is all about them. In terms of external stresses and challenges, there are aspects of every factor that won’t present themselves in their lives. They and their children are naturally supported.

We must recognize that one’s race or culture, if differs from white, presents unique stresses never experienced by whites and rarely imagined. These challenges don’t depend upon their strengths, but rather their race. Not every family is able to navigate the challenges and daily stressors that are clearly race-related. Some will manage to exist in strong, close knit, and intact family units, that also must mimic whites’ values in order to be seen as ‘strong’. But not everyone’s life will reflect this. Yet, their levels of functioning still indicates their family strengths and empowerment of protective factors.

photo of girl hugging her mother

Actually, you can’t measure a black family’s strengths against that of a white family-not through the same lens. The way blacks are viewed, largely influenced by the lack of cultural knowledge, not cultural awareness, is significantly different from a white person. For that reason alone, they can’t be assessed by the same tool. Culture and race are not taught or told, with accuracy or fully unedited. That creates a built-in disadvantage for children of color and their loved ones[family], shaping much of their life experiences and influencing life trajectory.

Resilience is considered a strength or protective factor. It is really unfair to assess resilience among families of color because throughout history, mere survival demonstrates resilience. Compounding this is the fact that they are continuing to be asked to cope-be resilient. The message to  black and brown people to not hope for change in society, because things will not change. So they are asked to cope.

We, as adults and professionals, understand that there are inherently racist undertones and explicit overtones in this country. And, to date, we still have in existence, official documents, policies and guidelines for practice, that contain ‘loopholes’ to inequity. It is the loophole which permits practices of yesteryear to persist as barriers which we’re told  have been extinguished, outlawed and abolished. We, unwittingly introduce those loopholes to children, by way of the classroom.

Cultural pride has not ever been promoted, encouraged or allowed for the black community. Histories were erased, traditions, cultural values and affirmations were literally beaten out of their ancestors, and…. today, in an environment that they were once punished and forbidden to enter, one would hope that this was over. Unfortunately, now that this population is permitted to openly learn…along with whites, they don’t have a clue about their ancestry or their history.

Education is supposed to be the vehicle, the driver, that leads to enlightenment, of the self and family and the world around us. Embedded in the process of learning is culture. What we do is tell children they can do anything, they have so much potential. What we don’t do is give them specifics. They think to themselves, ‘People keep telling me that I can do so much with my life, but they give me no ideas or directions. They don’t tell me what they see that I’m actually good at. ‘

girl lying on white surface petting gray rabbit

CULTURAL AWARENESS, self knowledge through history. It is so much easier for a white child to tell you what they want to be’ when they grow up’, because those adult professionals are all around them. They have neighbors, family and friends who will inspire and motivate them on an ongoing basis. Besides, in school settings, most of the learning content mirrors them. It strengthens them.

For black children, their experiences and exposure with and to figures who can fuel their potential is absent. Their very proud and impressive histories are absent from learning. The exposure to ‘professions’ is minimally specific. The people who they see around them, on particular occasions are doctors, social workers, teachers, custodians, psychologists, and let’s not forget the police.Suppose a youngster aspires to be an artist in film production, or journalist. Where are they to be exposed to those professionals. How about a Neuroscientist. What opportunities do they get to even spell the word, no less learn what they do?

By the time they reach high school, they still have been told that they have potential. That’s usually when they act out. Who has shown them a professional who looks like them? School is the place where this should happen, especially when they are overloaded with white people as the default.

Do we expect the parents of these children to expose them? How do poor people, black and brown, gain a relevant view of the world ahead of them and their place in it? What are we telling them that their ‘place’ is?  Life after high school? Where is the explicit encouragement? The tangible, concrete socially-relevant evidence of resilience?

The 6th protective factor is cultural awareness/historical knowledge. When one is aware of who they are, where they come from, and what they’ve been through, it provides a kind of strength that can shield them from succumbing to most of life’s challenges and stressors. It provides confidence, affirmation, a balanced sense of self, a sense of pride that allows one to navigate all risks and find a center. There is strength there. There is protection there. Cultural knowledge is an absolute protective factor, specifically relative to those we call minorities, under-served and at risk. Let us recognize it.

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