Protective factors are conditions or attributes in individuals, families, and communities that promote the health and well-being of children and families. By using a protective factors approach, child welfare professionals and others can help parents find resources and supports that emphasize their strengths while also identifying areas where they need assistance, thereby reducing the chances of child abuse and neglect.
There are a variety of protective factors approaches, with each highlighting a different set of factors. The following are the six factors included in the Children's Bureau's framework that community-based service providers can use to identify strengths within families and how those strengths can be further developed to prevent child abuse.
A child's early experiences of being nurtured and developing a bond with a caring adult affects all aspects of behavior and development. When parents and children have strong, warm feelings for one another, children develop trust that their parents will provide what they need to thrive, including love, acceptance, positive guidance, and protection.
Research shows that babies who receive affection and nurturing from their parents have the best chance of healthy development. A child's relationship with a consistent, caring adult in the early years is associated later in life with better academic grades, healthier behaviors, more positive peer interactions, and an increased ability to cope with stress.
Essentials for Childhood: Creating Safe, Stable, Nurturing Relationships and Environments for All Children (PDF - 24,945 KB)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Violence Prevention (2019)
Describes a framework to guide community activities to help build safe, stable, and nurturing relationships and environments for children and families. The guide outlines four main goals: to raise awareness and commitment to promoting safe, stable, and nurturing relationships; to use data to inform actions; to create the context for healthy children through norms change and program creation; and to create the context for healthy children through policy change.
Helping Caregivers Foster Secure Attachment in Young Children
Social Work Today, 17(4)
Describes an intervention designed to help parents better identify behaviors that may contribute to insecure attachment and increase the quantity and quality of nurturing behaviors.
Responsive Care: Nurturing a Strong Attachment Through Everyday Moments
ZERO TO THREE (2016)
Showcases a video on responsive care, the process of watching and tuning into a child's cues and responding in a sensitive way in order to nurture and build attachment with the child.
There is extensive research linking healthy child development to effective parenting. Children thrive when parents provide not only affection but also respectful communication and listening, consistent rules and expectations, and safe opportunities that promote independence. Successful parenting fosters psychological adjustment, helps children succeed in school, encourages curiosity about the world, and motivates children to achieve. The following resources offer information that helps families build their knowledge of child and youth development.
Explore the Tool Kits
Sesame Street (2021)
Provides parents and caregivers with interactive videos, print-outs, and resource guides that promote parent learning and engagement. Example topics include autism, brain development, and building resilience.
Positive Parenting Tips
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2020)
Provides information for parents about their children's development, positive parenting, safety, and health at various stages of a child's life.
Parents who can cope with the stresses of everyday life, as well an occasional crisis, have resilience; they have the flexibility and inner strength necessary to bounce back when things are not going well. Multiple life stressors, such as a family history of abuse or neglect, health problems, marital conflict, or domestic or community violence—and financial stressors, such as unemployment, poverty, and homelessness—may reduce a parent's capacity to cope effectively with the typical day-to-day stresses of raising children. The following resources support parents and caregivers in building their resilience.
Building Resilience in Troubled Times: A Guide for Parents
Center for the Study of Social Policy
Discusses ways for parent to build a better support during difficult times to continue to give their children what they need to grow up healthy and safe.
Building the Skills Adults Need for Life: A Guide for Practitioners
Harvard University, Center on the Developing Child (2017)
Presents a guide for practitioners that explains the science behind our core life skills, what affects their development, and how practitioners can help. The resource includes information on ways to help adults build skills, how stress affects our skills, and how to deliver services in ways that can help reduce stress.
Engaging Resilience: How Responsive Caregiving Lays the Foundation for Children to Thrive
Discusses the importance of the relationship with a caring adult provides children with the stability and security they need for healthy emotional, social, and behavioral development.
Parents and caregivers with a social network of emotionally supportive friends, family, and neighbors often find that it is easier to care for their children and themselves compared with those who do not have such a network. All caregivers need people they can call on once in a while when they need a sympathetic listener, advice, or concrete support. Research has shown that parents who are isolated and have few social connections are at higher risk for maltreating their children. The following resources provide an array of information that help families enhance their social connections.
Be Strong Families Café Trainings
Be Strong Families
Offers professionals an opportunity to receive trainings on the Be Strong Families Birth Parent Café Model, which is a tool focused on promoting healthy and positive peer-to-peer interactions and conversations.
Annie E. Casey Foundation
Focuses on the premise that families do better when they live in communities that help them to succeed. This website provides information on theory, relevant websites, results, and reading materials.
Many factors can affect a family's ability to care for its children.
Partnering with parents to identify and access resources in the community may help prevent the stress that sometimes precipitates child maltreatment. Providing concrete supports may also help prevent the unintended neglect that sometimes occurs when parents are unable to provide for their children. The following resources outline resources that offer help to parents and caregivers.
United Way (2021)
Offers a free, confidential hotline to connect people with local resources for food, employment, crisis support, health, and housing assistance.
National Parent Helpline
Provides links to national resources for a wide range of supports, including basic needs, social support emergency numbers, parenting education, and more. The webpage also includes State-specific resources.
Annie E. Casey Foundation
This initiative operates on the premise that families do better when they live in communities that help them to succeed. Information on theory, sites, results, and reading materials are provided.
Parents support healthy social and emotional development in children when they model how to express and communicate emotions effectively, self-regulate, and make friends. A child's social and emotional competence is crucial to sound relationships with family, adults, and peers. Conversely, delayed social-emotional development may obstruct healthy relationships. Early identification of such delays and early assistance for children and parents can provide support for family relationships and sustain positive and appropriate development.
Strengthening Families: Social and Emotional Competence of Children
Details three specific prompts that parents and child welfare professionals can use to develop social and emotional competencies in children through conversation.
Social-Emotional Competence of Children: Protective and Promotive Factors (PDF - 202 KB)
Center for the Study of Social Policy (2018)
Discusses the link between children's level of social and emotional competence and their language skills, mental health, and school success.
Children's Social Emotional Development and Mental Health: Why Does It Matter?
Children's Bureau and Learning Coordination Center
Highlights why it's important for all child-and family-serving programs to integrate increased support for the social emotional development of young children and the well-being of their caregivers.
Protective factors framework
A protective factors framework provides a better understanding on how six protective factors may contribute to or explain positive outcomes for children, families, and communities, as well as prevent child abuse and neglect. The resources below provide examples of the protective factors approaches commonly used in child welfare systems.
Protective Factors and Protective Capacities: Common Ground for Protecting Children and Strengthening Families [Infographic] (PDF - 233 KB)
Capacity Building Center for States (2016)
Describes the protective capacities framework and the protective factors framework, both of which are used by child welfare practitioners to assess, intervene, and serve families as well as explores the common ground the frameworks share to help strengthen consistency in services for families.