The NJ Strengthening Families Initiative (NJ SFI) is an approach to preventing child abuse and neglect by strengthening families through early care and education. The Center for the Study of Social Policy developed the Strengthening Families through Early Care and Education Framework. The fundamental principle is that certain protective factors contribute towards family resiliency and strength. Early Care and Education Centers play a prominent role in building these protective factors among the families they serve. Through seven key strategies, centers can become well positioned to help families build these protective factors that have proven to be effective in preventing child abuse and neglect.
Specific strategies from Exemplary Early Care and Education Programs that build protective factors:
Facilitate friendships and mutual support
Respond to family crises
Link families to services and opportunities
Value and support parents
Facilitate the social and emotional development of children
Observe and respond to early warning signs of child abuse or neglect
Knowledge of parenting and child devleopment
Concrete support in times of need
Social and emotional competence of children
The Center for the Study of Social emphasizes that the new approach uses early childhood programs to build evidence-based protective factors for children and their families. It differs from the current strategy and tactics in these significant ways:
- It is based in the early childhood education system.
- It focuses on building protection for children within their homes and communities, not only on identifying risks in their homes and communities.
- It seeks to overcome or mitigate manageable individual causes of child neglect and abuse-parental isolation, lack of knowledge about child development, and mental, physical or financial crisis in the family-rather than removing children from their homes
In addition, NJ has established the NJ SFI Task Force which is a public/private partnership of professionals and parents actively engaged in efforts to implement the Strengthening Families through Early Care and Education Framework throughout the state. The Task Force meets on a regular basis to collaborate and develop a coordinated effort to promote awareness of NJ SFI, support its implementation, share common efforts, compliment each others activities and maximize resources.