Global Family Life Education: China and Beyond

by Dawn Cassidy, M.Ed., CFLE, Director of Family Life Education, [email protected]
CFLE Network

CFLE Directions


In June of this year I traveled to Shanghai, China, with NCFR President Bill Allen and NCFR members and CFLEs Judy Myers-Walls, Glen Palm, and Yan Ruth Xia. Our trip was at the invitation of the Shanghai Women’s Federation, the Institute of Sociology, and the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences (SASS).

Based on an ongoing relationship with Dr. Xia, SASS asked for her help in identifying family professionals from the United States who could assist in providing training in family life education (FLE) to Chinese human services professionals. SASS was interested in taking a more intentional, family-focused approach to helping families and also in the possibility of creating a certification program for family life educators. They were specifically interested in parenting, (especially fatherhood), couples and relationships skills, and learning a bit about the history of family life education and certification in the United States. In addition, Dr. Allen was asked to speak specifically about video-game addiction among teenagers.

Chinese character for Family

The schedule and focus of the presentations changed a bit from the time we started preparing to when we actually presented, but in the end we provided a two-day workshop in Shanghai to approximately 150 professionals who worked with or for families in some capacity. In addition, we had the opportunity to visit two family services agencies, and we presented to students at East China Normal University.

Preparing for an audience from a culture as different from the U.S. as China proved to be a tremendous learning experience. As family life educators speaking about the practice of family life education, it was important that we model family life education principles in our approach and delivery. But China is a culture that reveres expertise. We were told more than once, “You are the experts; we just want to learn from you.” As Judy wisely pointed out during one of our planning meetings, “We want to teach them to cook, not feed them.” Our plans to include small-group work and audience participation were sometimes met with concern that the audience might not be comfortable with that kind of interaction. As it turned out, the audience we thought might be too shy to share their thoughts or insights easily broke into groups; they were quick to volunteer for on-stage demonstrations and activities. The response to the two-day SASS conference was very positive. Participants were eager to learn more about Family Science and the approach of family life education.

Presenters and organizers of the Family Life Educator (International) Workshop, Shanghai, China

While in Shanghai, Glen and I had the opportunity to visit an organization called Vibrant Communities. Workers migrating from rural to major urban areas have been a key part of China’s rapid growth, but the children of migrant workers face discrimination and a lack of educational opportunities. Vibrant Communities provides migrant children and their families with educational services to improve parent–child relationships. They provide an early childhood development program, an after-school program, and a program that combines art and science as a means to strengthen and empower migrant communities. We were able to talk with some of the staff and, even though it was a Saturday, meet with some of the children participating in the programming.

NCFR members met with representatives of ShouldAid

Judy, Yan, and Bill visited an organization called ShouldAid, a cooperative organization focused on meeting the needs of families in the community. Their services included a small school with opportunities for the children to learn art and writing, and to gain cultural skills. The children played an active role by serving lunch in the organization’s restaurant. In addition, they served as guides for an exhibit that included artworks they made using trash and discarded items. 

Since arriving back home, several of us have continued to communicate via email with representatives from these organizations. Both organizations, while serving needs particular to their communities, were surprisingly similar to programs offered in the United States. It was an important reminder that families throughout the world are more similar than different.

Students in a social work class carry out a stress reduction activity lead by Judy Myers-Walls

We also had the opportunity to meet with students at East China Normal University (ECNU). Glen and I presented to a class of students studying to teach special education. I shared my presentation about family life education, and Glen talked about the importance of fathers. We had a translator, but it appeared that most students had a good command of English, as evidenced by their thoughtful and articulate questions.

Judy and Bill spoke to a class of social work students at the ECNU School of Social Development. Judy gave a brief presentation about the Domains of Family Practice Model and led a stress-management activity as a way to model the interactive nature of family life education. Bill shared his presentation on video addiction.

As Bill shared in his President’s Report column, we all had our own preconceived notions about China before taking this trip. I think I can speak for the entire group in saying that this trip was a life-changing experience. The generosity and hospitality shown to us was humbling, and the enthusiasm of the Chinese people we met for learning more about families was inspiring.

As is often the case, funding will likely be the deciding factor in determining the next steps. It is clear that there is interest in future collaboration between those involved in planning and participating in this first conference on family life education and NCFR. Our hosts are eager to continue to learn more about how they can help strengthen families through family life education. In fact, several of us are continuing to communicate and collaborate with the people we met at the family agencies by sharing information back and forth.

The China trip also provides an opportunity for NCFR to carefully consider the role we can play in advancing family life education globally. Over the years several countries have demonstrated interest in family life education through the translation of the FLE village story into Chinese and Japanese, and through consultation with NCFR regarding Singapore’s Family Matters! initiative.

Over the past year, NCFR members and CFLEs Justin Petkus and Tyler Smith contacted me on separate occasions with similar suggestions for enhancing NCFR’s role in advancing global family life education. We are working with International Section Chair Yan Ruth Xia to create a task force to consider the appropriate role of NCFR. If you are interested in being involved in this effort, please send me an e-mail ([email protected]).

Glen, Judy, and I were fortunate to have our spouses join us on this trip (at our own expense). Thanks to Judy’s husband, Dick, for serving as the trip’s historian by taking more than 8,000 photos! Following a week of presentations and professional visits in Shanghai, we all spent the next week touring some of the amazing sites of China. I really enjoyed the opportunity to spend social time with people I have known professionally for years, and I appreciated the fact that we were given the opportunity to share this amazing experience with our families.