CFLE in Context: A Framework for Best Practices in Family Life Education

by Sharon M. Ballard, Ph.D., FLE & Alan C. Taylor, Ph.D., CFLE
CFLE Network
Content Area
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Family life education is relevant across the lifespan, is inclusive of all types of families, and is designed to meet the needs of the target audience (Arcus, Schvaneveldt, & Moss, 1993). However, given the diversity of families, it is often difficult to determine the true needs of an audience and many audiences may be hard to reach. Beyond simply knowing about diversity, family life educators must also be cognizant of the unique challenges and opportunities that arise from developing and implementing programs specifically for diverse populations.

The challenges in meeting the needs of diverse audiences are exacerbated by the current evidence-driven culture and the need to prove what works. Many family life educators feel pressured to use an evidence-based program, but the available programs may not meet the needs of the target audience or be a good fit for the educator. Although, there are significant advantages to evidence-based programs, they do not take the place of a needs assessment or a skilled family life educator. Often, there is the perception that as long as you have an evidence-based program, anyone can be trained to teach the material effectively. These ideas are not necessarily true and negate the importance of the facilitator or educator. The push for evidence-based programs may be particularly harmful for diverse audiences. The right program for the right audience must be selected and it must be implemented by a well-trained and skilled FLE in order for it to be effective.

Therefore, we advocate for the need for evidence-based practices, which often are called best practices. In other words, what are the practices that work most effectively? How has evidence (theory, research, educator experience) informed these practices? How can FLEs use these practices in their programs? It is our belief that the use of evidence-based practices or best practices is the most effective option for the field of family life education. Good family life programs based on best practices consist of a combination of empirically-supported content and program design, along with experiences and skills of the family life educator.

In the first chapter of our edited book, Family Life Education with Diverse Populations (Ballard & Taylor, 2012) we presented our Framework for Best Practices in Family Life Education. Specifically, the framework includes three components of family life education practices: program content, program design, and the family life educator. When set in the context of culture, strengths, and needs of the population, these components provide a framework for working with diverse populations. We will discuss each of these components in more depth and explore how they contribute to best practices.

Program Content

In regard to diverse audiences, program content must be culturally appropriate in order to be effective. Family life educators must determine the appropriate scope of their program and establish the relevance, or applicability, to their audience. The ten content areas of Family Life Education provide a guide for family life educators (NCFR, 2010b).

Family life educators must be aware of current and future demographic trends as well as contextual influences on families in our society (Families and Individuals in Societal Contexts). This information provides an important foundation upon which FLEs can design and implement educational programs. For example, processes such as immigration patterns are significant to understanding Asian immigrant families (Hwang, 2012).

Being able to see families through a theoretical lens and examine unique processes, strengths, and challenges (Internal Dynamics of Families) helps FLEs avoid applying a "one-size-fits-all" model to their programming. A cornerstone of family life education is using a strengths-based approach to working with families. Helping people recognize their strengths and opportunities can generate a sense of empowerment and fortitude. In regard to FLE programming, certain family dynamics may be emphasized as familial strengths and may provide important clues to successful programming. Schvaneveldt and Behnke (2012) discussed Familismo which refers to the strong connection among family members that is present among Latino immigrant families. Familismo can be considered a strength that can guide effective family life education practices.

Developmental transitions can be a key time for family life education. The manner in which one negotiates developmental stages (Human Growth and Development) intersects with his or her membership in a particular population. An understanding of this intersection can guide applicable program content. For example, particular adolescent needs, such as information about pregnancy prevention, may be ignored among LGBT youth (Maurer, 2012); pregnancy prevention efforts with this population should not be overlooked, but may need to be approached in unique ways.

Family life educators should respect the diversity of values and beliefs about sexuality that exists in each culture (Human Sexuality). Sexuality is often considered an inappropriate topic to discuss publically in some populations, for example among Muslims. However, a number of Arab immigrant families may be accepting if the sexuality education is conducted in single-sex classrooms and the FLE is of the same sex as the students (Blume, Sani, & Ads, 2012).

Understanding Interpersonal Relationships is essential for FLEs in order to build relationships of trust with the diverse populations they serve. When providing education to a population that employs interpersonal communication skills differently than the larger population, programming activities would likely need to be adapted to meet the needs of the intended audience. Adaptations may include how participants listen to each other, provide self-disclosure or even how conflicts are resolved. Having an understanding of unique cultural differences in regards to interpersonal communication can bring the FLE content closer to the participants' understanding. Duncan Perrote and Feinman (2012) discussed the importance of family life educators being respectful and trustworthy when working with American Indian populations.

When working with diverse populations around resource management issues (Family Resource Management), FLEs may need to examine the values placed on certain resources. What might be considered an important resource to the educator might not be valued by the diverse participants and visa-versa. An understanding of the decision making structure (e.g., does the husband make all resource decisions) may also be an important aspect to understand.

Many factors influence how individuals view parenting relative to diverse families (Parenting Education and Guidance). Acknowledging that parenting styles and behaviors vary greatly among various cultures is important when developing and organizing educational programming. What may be considered harsh or inappropriate treatment by one group may be the norm for another.

Family life educators must understand how family policy and laws influence the structure of families and family functioning (Family Law and Public Policy). Many populations have unique legal issues such as those that grandfamilies or LGBT families face. Just like any helping professional, FLEs must be concerned with ethical conduct (Professional Ethics and Practice) and signing a code of ethics specific to family life education is required for all certified family life educators (NCFR, 2010a). In addition to the ethical standards relevant regardless of population, there are particular ethical considerations that may be unique to various populations. For example, FLEs should be aware of the potential for dual relationships when working with rural families (Olsen & Archuleta, 2012) or the need to avoid having political affiliations and ideologies interfere with their work with military service members and their families (Carroll, Smith & Behnke, 2012).

Program Design

Content often is the primary emphasis within a program; yet, participant needs extend beyond content to program design. Program design includes program format and features as well as methods (Family life education methodology). Methods are the various tools needed by family life educators to deliver the educational programming necessary for their intended audiences. Modes of learning, recruitment and marketing, barriers to participation, and environmental considerations, all crucial components of program design, will vary depending on the population. For example, modes of learning may include the relevance of storytelling when working with American Indian populations (Perrote & Fienman, 2012), the role that structure and hierarchical relationships play in the learning styles of military families (Carroll, et al., 2012), or the use of small discussion groups rather than speaking in front of the whole class with Asian Immigrant families (Hwang, 2012).

Programs also may vary in terms of program extensiveness (Dumka, Roosa, Michaels, & Suh, 1995). Universal programs are designed for everyone in a particular population (e.g., a parenting education program that is designed for all parents). Selective programs are designed for a particular subgroup such as grandparents who are raising their grandchildren, or those at risk (incarcerated parents). Indicated programs are intended for particular subgroups that are showing negative outcomes (e.g., court-mandated parent education). Dumka et al. cautioned that selective and indicated programs require an accurate method of identifying the target audience and that there is a risk of stigmatizing the participants by specifically targeting them. However, universal programs are often developed with the white, middle-class audience in mind and fail to meet the needs of families who do not fit this limited view.

Family life educators are trained to assess the needs of their target audience and adapt content and methods to meet varying audiences. However, a program designed for a specific cultural sub-group might still miss the mark because of the great heterogeneity among specific subgroups; FLEs must still rely on their training and expertise.

The Family Life Educator

Family life education has always been challenged, by the premise that everyone has a family and therefore many think that they are experts. Armchair philosophy abounds and it often seems that everyone has advice to share– very little of which is research based. However, here may be a place for personal experience and advice within a family life education program. Support and sharing of experiences and feelings among participants can be an important aspect of many family life education programs. Additionally, although no family life education program should be based solely on experiences, we contend that we do not want to ignore the experience of the family life educator both in terms of content and practice.

Research is obviously important, but on its own may not be enough. A FLE may have research-based content but it may not represent the information needed by the target audience at that time or be presented in a way that makes sense to the participants. The family life educator must identify relevant and "teachable" material that is empirically-based and must be able to then deliver this information in an effective manner. The importance of the family life educator in successful programming is often overlooked. Yet, we contend that the family life educator is a crucial piece in what constitutes best practices and is a piece that is missing from much of the discourse. A skilled FLE effectively uses best practices in program content, program design, and program implementation.

We have presented a brief overview of the Framework for Best Practices in Family life Education (Ballard & Taylor, 2012), which emphasizes the intersection of program content and program design with the family life educator. It is only through an awareness of and an appreciation for the diversity of cultures and populations that FLEs will achieve the goal of strengthening all families.


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Ballard S. M., & Taylor, A. C. (2012). Best practices in family life education. In S.M. Ballard & A.C. Taylor (Eds.) Family life education with diverse populations (pp. 1-18). Los Angeles: Sage.

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Carroll, E., Smith, C. C. M., & Behnke, A. (2012). Family life education with military families. In S.M. Ballard & A.C. Taylor (Eds.) Family life education with diverse populations (pp. 91-115). Los Angeles: Sage.

Dumka, L. E., Roosa, M. W., Michaels, M. L., & Suh, K. W. (1995). Using research and theory to develop prevention programs for high risk families. Family Relations, 44, 78-86.

Hwang, A. (2012). Family life education with Asian immigrant families. In S.M. Ballard & A.C. Taylor (Eds.) Family life education with diverse populations (pp. 187-209). Los Angeles: Sage.

Maurer, L. (2012). Family life education with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender families. In S.M. Ballard & A.C. Taylor (Eds.) Family life education with diverse populations (pp. 255-283). Los Angeles: Sage.

National Council on Family Relations (NCFR). (2010a). Family life educators code of ethics. Retrieved from the NCFR website.

National Council on Family Relations (NCFR). (2010b). Family life education content areas: Content and practice guidelines. Retrieved from the NCFR website.

Olsen, C. & Archuleta, K. L. (2012). Family life education with rural families. In S.M. Ballard & A.C. Taylor (Eds.) Family life education with diverse populations (pp. 19-40). Los Angeles: Sage.

Perrote, D. D. & Feinman, S. (2012). Family life education with American Indian families. . In S.M. Ballard & A.C. Taylor (Eds.) Family life education with diverse populations (pp. 141-164). Los Angeles: Sage.