Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

From Family Deficit to Family Strength: Viewing Families' Contributions to Children's Learning from a Family Resilience Perspective

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

From Family Deficit to Family Strength: Viewing Families' Contributions to Children's Learning from a Family Resilience Perspective

Article excerpt

This article presents an overview of a research-informed family resilience framework, developed as a conceptual map to guide school counselors' preventive and interventive efforts with students and their families. Key processes that characterize children's and families' resilience are outlined along with recommendations for how school counselors might apply this family resilience framework in their work.


Over the past two decades, the relationship between families and schools has been debated in the field of education. This ongoing debate has begun to refocus attention from looking for family deficits to looking for family strengths contributing to children's learning. Moreover, educators have shifted their attention to finding ways to actively support families' efforts to prepare their children for school success instead of interacting with families only when children are experiencing school difficulties. This change in thinking about the family-school relationship refocuses a long-standing overemphasis on pathology and an outdated assumption that the family causes a child's educational and/or mental health problems.

From this family resilience perspective, the family-school relationship becomes a collaborative one in which the educator recognizes that successful interventions to enhance children's learning depend more on tapping into a family's resources than on specific change techniques. As a result, assessment and intervention efforts are redirected from looking at how children's learning problems are caused to looking for family strengths, or resiliencies, that can be employed to resolve a child's problem. From this positive, future-oriented stance, educators and family members work together to find new possibilities for growth and to overcome impasses to children's learning and development.

A family resilience perspective considers each interaction between home and school as an opportunity to strengthen a family's capacity to overcome adversity and successfully rear its children (Walsh, 1998, 2003). Two basic premises guide this resilience theory approach. The first premise is that while stressful crises and persistent economic, physical, and social challenges influence the whole family and its capacity to successfully rear its children, key family processes mediate the impact of these crises and the development of resilience in individual members and in the family unit as a whole. A second premise is that while family processes mediate how children are prepared to participate in school, these key family processes can be strengthened by the way the school responds to families. As the family becomes more resourceful, its ability to rear its children is enhanced. As a result, each family-school intervention also can be a preventive measure.

There is now a considerable volume of research describing the key processes that families display in rearing children who are educationally successful. The purpose of this article is to present a family resilience framework based upon an overview of this research. Our main question is, "What do families do to prepare children to be academically successful?" This information is of value to school counselors for several reasons. First, it can counter many of the stereotyped descriptions of family structures, lifestyles, and customs depicted in the mass media. Second, it can help counselors understand how families teach children to be successful in school. Third, it can help counselors design interventions that foster families' capacities to prepare academically successful children.


Prior to 1980, researchers (Hetherington, Featherman, & Camara, 1982; Jencks et al., 1972) examining the family's influence on children's learning typically employed a deficit-based lens. These researchers, who took a family structure perspective, believed that only one type of family structure--the two-parent intact family with a stay-at-home mother--was "normal" and had a positive effect on children. …

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