Family Support Services: Fact Sheet
Family Support Services (FSS) were developed to respond to the concerns, interests, and needs of families within a community. FSS are "community-based services to promote the well-being of children and families, designed to increase the strength and stability of families (including adoptive, foster, and extended families), to increase parents' confidence and competence in their parenting abilities, to afford children a stable and supportive family environment, and otherwise to enhance child development" (1993 OBRA provisions, P.L. 10366).
Families are primarily responsible for their children's development and welfare, and they need support, knowledge, and resources to adequately fulfill this important responsibility. Families and the community are interdependent and their needs and strengths are inter-related. Families should play a central role in identifying needs and in designing and delivering services.
FSS is designed to empower families to more successfully nurture their children while preserving family integrity. The focus of FSS is on prevention. It is intended to make community resources available and accessible to all families, not just those in crisis, regardless of economic, educational or ethnic status. Building on the strengths of families, FSS works toward improving child and family well-being as measured by child physical and mental health, success in school, a reduction in teen pregnancy and juvenile crime rates, and so on. On a broader scale, FSS seeks to strengthen communities by building supportive networks and helping families to work together to meet their collective needs.
Participation in FSS is voluntary, and there are generally no eligibility requirements other than families' common characteristics or experiences. Families as a whole or individual members can access FSS before, after and during a crisis. Even if a family is receiving other assistance at the time, they can participate in FSS. Developed from grassroots organizations, such as informal groups of parents, parent associations, community organizations, and others who come together to address common concerns or provide mutual support, FSS is provided primarily at the local level. Providers may be separate, freestanding, non-profit agencies or groups sponsored by churches, hospitals, schools, day-care centers, or universities. Services are provided by parents, peers, professionals, paraprofessionals, volunteers, and employees often at drop-in community resource centers and even in the home.
FSS includes: child care, respite care of children to provide temporary relief for parents and other caregivers, child development services, vocational training, enhancement of personal development skills, individual and family counseling, housing assistance, companionship, parenting classes, recreation, structured activities to strengthen the parent-child relationship, information and referral services, and early developmental screening of children to assess their need for specific services. Home visiting and outreach may also be provided.
Delivery of Services
FSS is inherently flexible and can be tailored to meet individual family needs. Building on the strengths of the families, FSS addresses the context in which families exist, appreciating and valuing each family's community, culture and lifestyle. Individual family members or entire families can identify and participate in activities and services as often as they like or receive outreach services from a specific FSS program. The services are usually open-ended and provided until the family meets its long-term goals. A unique aspect of FSS is the involvement of parents and community members in the planning, delivery and evaluation of services. Parents frequently serve on boards, lead groups and classes, and provide feedback on program effectiveness and redesign.
Effectiveness of Family Preservation Services
FSS is considered effective when parenting skills and the relationship between children and their parents improve. Crises are prevented as families learn how to better nurture their children. The increased ability of parents to become supportive resources for each other is a positive outcome of FSS. Increased parental involvement in family support programs, groups, and activities is a good indicator of the effectiveness of FSS. Participating families must be satisfied with the services they receive and the respect with which they are delivered.
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