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May 2012Vol. 13 No. 4Developing Resilience and Strengthening Families

Programs that help at-risk families develop resilience and achieve stable relationships are featured in the latest issue of the Virginia Child Protection Newsletter. Of particular interest is a study of fragile families showing how well-targeted resources can help these families thrive.

Fragile families are defined as families where parents may be cohabiting but are not married. A study of these families from 1998 to 2000 sought to examine the causes and consequences of nonmarital childbearing. Researchers interviewed parents of approximately 5,000 newborns in hospitals in large cities; approximately 3,600 in the sample were unmarried parents.

Follow-up interviews were conducted when the children were approximately 1, 3, 5, and 9 years old. At the time of the child's birth, 80 percent of couples were romantically involved and hoped to marry. Five years later, 40 percent of the couples were still romantically involved. The results show that while children of unmarried parents were at higher risk of poor outcomes, family instability appears to matter more than family structure for cognitive and health outcomes. Overall, stable single or stable cohabiting parents have less risk of poor child outcomes than children who are raised in unstable situations.

The article also highlights how well-structured programs can assist fragile families to develop the protective factors that can support resilient, stable, and strong families. Key pathways to this development include the following: parental resources; parental mental health; parent relationship quality; parenting quality; and father involvement. The issue features a number of existing programs that have shown some success in supporting positive family outcomes, in Virginia and elsewhere.

The Virginia Child Protection Newsletter is published by the Department of Psychology at James Madison University, with sponsorship from the Child Protective Services Unit of the Virginia Department of Social Services. This issue is available here: (3 MB)