Tennessee: The Strengthening Families Initiative

Mar 17, 2010


Since 2008, Tennessee has worked to promote and integrate the Strengthening Families (SF) framework into state systems. Strengthening Families was developed by the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) to prevent child abuse and neglect by building five protective factors around young children and working with their families. While the approach was developed in early care and education programs, it is now being incorporated in a wide range of settings and serving many different populations. The five protective factors in the Strengthening Families approach are:

  • Parental resilience,
  • Social connections,
  • Knowledge of parenting and child development,
  • Concrete support in times of need, and
  • Children\'s social/emotional development.

Tennessee is one of 23 states that participate in the Strengthening Families National Network, a network connecting states that have implemented or are working to develop statewide SF initiatives. Tennessee Strengthening Families is an initiative overseen by the Tennessee Children\'s Trust Fund (CTF) in the state\'s child welfare agency, the Department of Children\'s Services. CTF partners with the state\'s Department of Human Services (DHS) and together convene a Strengthening Families Steering Committee comprised of representatives from various state agencies and community partners. DHS has contracted to provide a Strengthening Families Network Coordinator and 11 Parenting Liaisons to work with the Tennessee Child Care Resource and Referral Network (CCR&R) and its ten contracted local CCR&R agencies. The contract uses quality funds from the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) in the amount of $780,000 each year. The contract began July 1, 2008. The SF coordinator is responsible for overseeing the Parenting Liaisons and advancing the SF Framework statewide and across agencies. The overall goals of the SF initiative are to:

  • Improve awareness about the pivotal role of strong families to both child abuse prevention and quality early care and education programs;
  • Increase the number of early childhood programs preventing child abuse and neglect through promotion of the five SF protective factors;
  • Develop effective, collaborative relationships between early childhood providers, child welfare workers, and child abuse preventions programs;
  • Integrate a family-centered approach into state-level planning for all agencies serving young children and their families; and
  • Work with teen parents and parents participating in the child care subsidy program in order to assist with understanding and finding quality child care.

Tennessee integrates the Strengthening Families Framework into the state early childhood system in numerous ways, including collaboration with the state CCR&R network,  integration into the state early childhood professional development system and other quality enhancement initiatives, and partnering with the child welfare system.

Collaboration with CCR&R to Train-the-Trainers

All members of the state\'s CCR&R network, which includes CCR&R specialists, the eleven state infant/toddler specialists, and parenting liaisons, must attend annual Train-the-Trainer Institutes. As part of the institute training this past year, network members were trained on the SF framework. Developed by Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee, the two-and-a-half-day training included:

  • Review of the five SF protective factors
  • Training on early childhood social-emotional development
  • Additional workshops offered on parent engagement and involvement

Once network members complete the train-the-trainer SF process, they are expected to provide quarterly, one-on-one trainings with child care providers, parents, and community partners on the protective factors. In the past year, 1,998 providers, many of whom care for infants/toddlers, received a total of 4,229 hours of SF training.

Among other efforts to ensure widespread training on the SF framework, individual presentations and guidebooks were given to local CCR&Rs, and train-the-trainer events were held across the state to prepare additional partners, such as local community members, on leading Community Cafés. Community Café\'s are a series of conversations focused on building leadership development and parent partnerships among child care providers, parents, and community members using the SF framework. Over 300 parents, early care providers, and community partners participated in a Community Café event from July - September 2008. The Parenting Liaisons also work closely with infant/toddler specialists to promote the protective factors in infant/toddler care; both have received supplemental toolkit training on infant/toddler-related resources, such as Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP), Creative Curriculum for Infants, Toddlers, & Twos, Infant/Toddler Environment Rating Scale (ITERS) training, health and safety for infants and toddlers, and information from the Center on Social Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL) at Vanderbilt University.

Overall, more than 450 early care and education programs have been reached through education and outreach efforts. Nearly 700 early childhood providers in those programs, home visitors, and child welfare workers have received training on the SF framework.

Integration into State Professional Development System

The Tennessee SF initiative is working to integrate the SF protective factors into a wide range of trainings and professional development opportunities available to early care and education providers. Initiative efforts have included embedding SF protective factors into:

  • Workshops offered for free to licensed providers through the Tennessee Child Care Provider Training (TN-CCPT).
  • Trainings and academic coursework offered by the Tennessee Early Childhood Training Alliance (TECTA). The TECTA Orientation Program is a free 30-hour program satisfies annual clock training requirements for providers and is offered in five specializations, one of which is infant/toddler care.
  • Subsidized academic courses leading to a CDA designation.
  • Four training modules on infant/toddler social-emotional development created by the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL). The modules are integrated in the infant/toddler orientation and academic coursework.
  • Mentoring and small group supports for family child care providers.

In addition, other organizations and initiatives that have integrated the SF framework into their work include: the state chapter of Parents as Teachers, University of Tennessee Extension Center for Parenting, the Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee grant for shaken baby syndrome prevention, LaBonheur Early Intervention and Development, Tennessee Early Intervention Services, the Governor\'s Office of Children\'s Care Coordination, and CSEFEL.

Linking SF Protective Factors to the QRIS and Child Care Quality Improvement Activities

Child care providers are encouraged to apply the protective factors into ongoing efforts to improve the quality of their programs. All licensed and approved providers must undergo an annual program assessment, which is part of the state\'s quality rating and improvement system (QRIS). The Tennessee QRIS is comprised of two parts:

  • Tennessee Child Care Evaluation and Report Card Program: The Child Care Evaluation and Report Card Program is a required component of obtaining and renewing a child care license. Every licensed child care provider undergoes a program assessment conducted by an assessor. The results of the assessment are compiled in a report card, which providers must display along with their license for parents to see. Centers are evaluated in seven areas, including the Environment Rating Scales (ERS). Providers are encouraged to use the SF protective factors to improve three of these areas: Director\'s Qualifications, Parent/Family Involvement, and Professional Development.
  • Star-Quality Child Care Program: The voluntary Star-Quality recognizes child care providers who meet a higher standard of quality. Once qualified for this program, a provider can receive one, two, or three stars to place on its license and display in its center or home. Each star shows that the provider meets increasingly higher standards. During the licensing renewal process, the Program Evaluator determines whether the provider qualifies for the Star-Quality program. The provider is automatically enrolled in the program if she/he qualifies. No further evaluation is required as the existing evaluation results will be used to calculate the number of stars the provider receives.

In addition, the SF framework is promoted among a wide range of activities focused on improving program quality. The state has developed crosswalks between the SF approach and the components of National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) accreditation and the Creative Curriculum to show how SF supports them. The protective factors of SF also have been integrated into:

Partnering with Child Welfare

SF partners with the child welfare system in several ways. The Tennessee Center for Child Welfare, which trains child welfare workers under contract with the Department of Children\'s Services (DCS), is a member of the SF Steering Committee and includes SF in new worker training. In addition, a small grant from the National Alliance of Children\'s Trust & Prevention Funds is being used to help DCS staff understand quality child care and the importance of keeping children in stable quality child care environments whenever possible. Tennessee\'s Children\'s Trust Fund (CTF) is the contractor for Community Based Child Abuse Prevention (CBCAP) grants. Grantees must apply for funding, and the criteria now mandate the use of Strengthening Families Protective Factors in the proposed prevention programs.

Evaluation of the Tennessee SF Initiative

The University of Tennessee has a contract with the DHS to conduct a three-year evaluation of the SF initiative. Overall, the evaluation is to consist of three parts:

  • First year: Evaluate SF collaborations
  • Second year: Identify impact of SF framework on providers and parents
  • Third year: Assess impacts on families and providers

Given that the initiative is still in the early stages of implementation, first-year findings from the initiative have not yet been completed.



Judy Smith

Chief Officer of Statewide Initiatives, Signal Centers, Inc. (Tennessee Child Care Resource & Referral Network)




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