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Sep 17, 2018 |
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What are the most important things families do to ensure that children and youth grow up well? Our brainstorm list would certainly include some basic physical needs (which are also the responsibility of society). But it would be dominated with words like love, cherish, teach, and guide.

NCFL Guest Blogger Series

If you were to boil it down to one word, you might pick- relationships. At their core, families’ strengths and challenges lie in the qualities of their relationships.

Too often, though, our programs do little to reinforce this core relational focus in families, particularly beyond the early childhood years. In recognizing the power of families for learning, we can inadvertently focus so much on the content we want them to know that we forget that their power comes through the bonds that bind them together. How can we support them in keeping those bonds from becoming frayed?

Search Institute’s framework of developmental relationships offers a research-based lens to help families (and others) be intentional in nurturing those bonds throughout childhood and adolescence. The framework articulates five specific elements that matter in relationships that help young people learn, grow, and thrive. They are:

  • Express care—Show me that I matter to you.
  • Challenge growth—Push me to keep getting better.
  • Provide support—Help me complete tasks and achieve goals.
  • Share power—Treat me with respect and give me a say.
  • Expand possibilities—Connect me with people and places that broaden my world.

The framework opens up rich opportunities for young people and parenting adults to reflect, talk, and learn together. What do they value and hope for in their relationships? How do they need to change as they learn and grow? (They and their relationships are different than they used to be.) By digging beneath the broad idea of “relationships,” we can become much more intentional about specific practices and interactions, which are the building blocks of those relationships.

A number of tools are already available to use this framework with families, including, a website for parents, and a free interactive workshop you can offer to the families you serve. In addition, my colleague Fatima Muhammad will facilitate a session about the framework at the 2018 Families Learning Conference. I know she’d be eager to talk with you about your interests.

Through our Relationships for Outcomes Initiative (ROI), we’re partnering with NCFL to explore practical ways to bring this framework to life in programs and services for families. We’re beginning with designing prototypes in collaboration with Toberman Neighborhood Center in San Pedro, CA. Moving forward, additional resources and strategies that bring the framework to life across the NCFL network.

Focusing on family relationships may seem at first like a distraction from the “real curriculum.” Yet we would suggest that everything else we teach will have greater impact and staying power in families that are connected, learning, and growing together.


Eugene C. Roehlkepartain, PhD, is Search Institute’s vice president of research and development. He created the organization’s family engagement resource, Keep Connected.


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NCFL Partners

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Toyota, one of the nation's most successful corporations, began a partnership with NCFL in 1991. In addition to a commitment of more than $50 million, Toyota has also contributed a wealth of in-kind support — including advertising, planning and management expertise — to form one of the most progressive corporate/nonprofit partnerships in the nation.

Three major programs have been developed through the Toyota partnership based on the family literacy model of parents and children learning together. These models have influenced federal and state legislation, leveraged local dollars to support family literacy and led to successful programs being replicated across the country.

Read more about Toyota's commitment to communities

William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust

NCFL received its very first donation in 1989 from the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust to promote and implement family literacy programming, first in Kentucky and North Carolina and later nationwide. The Kenan Family Literacy Model in part laid the groundwork for 30 years of subsequent family literacy and family learning programming developed by NCFL.

Kenan has continued to support NCFL’s place-based family literacy programs since our inception. Most recently, it has invested in our organization’s Sharon Darling Innovation Fund, which will launch emerging ideas and programmatic evolutions in the multigenerational learning space.

Learn more about the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust

Dollar General Literacy Foundation

The Dollar General Literacy Foundation began partnering with NCFL in 2006. A signature effort of this partnership is the National Literacy Directory, a resource that launched in 2010 and strives to guide potential students and volunteers to literacy services, community education programs, and testing centers in their communities.

The National Literacy Directory contains over 10,000 educational agencies located across the United States and has a dedicated toll-free number to help support those wanting to pursue educational opportunities in their communities.

Dollar General also provides support for development of NCFL’s innovative family learning resources centered on financial literacy and Parent and Child Together (PACT) Time®.

Learn more about the Dollar General Literacy Foundation

PNC Grow Up Great

PNC Grow Up Great believes deeply in the power of high-quality early childhood education and provides innovative opportunities that assist families, educators and community organizations to enhance children's learning and development.

PNC Grow Up Great has partnered with NCFL since 1994, most recently in Louisville, Kentucky, to support Say & Play with Words, our pre-Kindergarten vocabulary-building initiative.

NCFL's work is also featured on the PNC Grow Up Great Lesson Center website. The Lesson Center includes over 100 free, high-quality preschool lesson plans and research-based instructional techniques and strategies. All lesson plans contain Home/School Connections printouts, in English and Spanish, to help families extend and reinforce the learning at home.

Learn more about PNC Grow Up Great

U.S. Department of Education

Initiated through the U.S. Department of Education in 2018, the Statewide Family Engagement Centers (SFEC) program provides 12 grantees and 13 states with five-year, $5 million grants to promote and implement systemic evidenced-based family engagement strategies. NCFL was selected to lead SFECs in two states, Arizona and Nebraska, and is a primary partner for two other SFECs in Kentucky and Maryland/Pennsylvania. 

The SFECs work to support family engagement through state- and local-level agencies while providing both professional development to school districts and direct services to families related to children’s academic outcomes and overall well-being.

Learn more about the U.S. Department of Education

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

NCFL was named a recipient of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s "Voices for Economic Opportunity Grand Challenge," which seeks to elevate diverse voices in order to broaden the conversation about the issues inhibiting economic mobility and generate deeper awareness along with actionable understanding. NCFL will develop and launch a podcast series that will highlight the remarkable stories of low-income, diverse families across the U.S. who have improved their communities through Family Service Learning.

Foundation Website