Community Development and Family Support: Forging a Practical Nexus to Strengthen Families and Communities
The fields of community development and family support share a common basic goal: improving the life chances and well-being of individuals and families. Each field is guided by principles that advocate the shared humanity of all individuals, respect for diversity, and the promotion of social and economic justice. Yet the conceptual models of each field have led to different assumptions, priorities, and strategies of practitioners. Practitioners are increasingly reaching a “conceptual wall” where their fundamental assumptions about how best to strengthen families and neighborhoods are called into question in the face of resistant problems and changing family and neighborhood dynamics. For some practitioners there is an awareness that more holistic approaches are required to effectively address the complexity of needs experienced by disadvantaged families and neighborhoods. In order to develop a more holistic approach to practice, the fundamental linkages between strong families and strong communities must be conceptualized and operationalized in practice within each field. Recently a small, but growing number of community development and family support organizations have begun to implement more integrative programmatic approaches. The major goal of this research is to identify current concepts and practices, as well as potential strategies for the integration of community development and family support initiatives. Specifically, we have engaged in a research effort to explore the ways in which organizations can and do develop conceptual and programmatic models that form a nexus between building community and the wellbeing of families. The project team conducted focus group sessions at a special conference on family support and community economic development to identify current programmatic strategies, and major issues confronting practitioners. Over 30 family support and community development practitioners (administrators and staff) from across the country participated in the focus groups. Subsequently, the research team conducted field interviews with six organizations in Chicago, five organizations in the San Francisco/San Jose area, and two organizations in Hawaii. Content analysis of field interview and focus group transcripts was used to identify major practice concepts, current and emerging strategies, and challenges confronting community development and family support organizations.