“Defund the Police.” A Call to Action for Family Science and Family Life Educators

Dawn Cassidy, M.Ed., CFLE, Director of Family Life Education
/ CFLE Network, Summer 2020


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The current conversation around “defunding” the police is leading the way for a paradigm shift in how society chooses to deal with social problems. This paradigm shift provides an opportunity to advocate for the discipline of Family Science and to highlight the important role that Family Life Educators can play in meeting the needs of society in a more effective and positive way.

The term “defund the police” can conjure images of a lawless society, but in reality, the movement is about transferring resources from the police to social programs and community-based efforts focused on more efficiently and effectively meeting the needs of the community. It is also about considering ways in which we can focus more efforts on preventing problems.

The conversations around this concept provide opportunities to consider the current work that police are doing in our communities and to think about how else we might deal with social problems like homelessness, domestic violence, substance abuse, and mental illness, which are often at the root of crime. In our current society the go-to response for dealing with many of these problems is with police and prisons. What if we start to think about different ways to respond to these same problems, such as decreasing the role of the police in situations that are not dangerous and instead allowing trained medical and social service professionals to take the lead? Clearly this approach would provide opportunities to increase the role of Family Life Educators in addressing many of the issues and situations the police currently face.

Conversations around reallocating resources from the police to community-based efforts provide two opportunities for NCFR: (a) advocating for the discipline of Family Science and (b) advocating for the role of Family Life Educators and Family Science graduates as agents in increased efforts to provide education and resources to support and strengthen families.

Advocating for Family Science

In taking a truly preventive and proactive approach to minimizing societal problems, we can focus on increasing awareness and understanding, as well as providing tangible financial support, to the important role that family plays in society. We can advocate for Family Science and the importance of studying the family and providing individuals and families with research-based information about the knowledge and skills they need to function at their full potential.

I am reminded of the proverb from Ghana: The ruin of a nation begins in the homes of its people. Perhaps a more positive approach to that concept is to consider the home as the foundation of a healthy and successful society. We can take advantage of this moment and bring attention to the important role that family can play in providing individuals with the knowledge and skills needed to be contributing members of society. The family is the logical place in which to learn basic life skills, including communication, conflict resolution, parenting, and caring for ourselves and others. The family is also often where we develop our sense of self and of others, and it is this sense of self, whether it be positive or negative, that impacts how we move forward in the world and how we treat others. Some families are successful in providing a positive foundation, but we know that many times they are not. As we begin to think differently about how society can address social problems, we can take this opportunity to promote the value of investing more money and resources into making sure our families have everything they need to be successful.

Advocating for Family Life Education

This paradigm shift also provides an opportunity to advocate for Family Life Education (FLE). The foundation of FLE is one of optimism. It is based on a belief in the inherent strength of individuals and families and recognition of the wisdom and value of taking a preventive and educational approach to contributing to healthy, functioning families. According to NCFR’s White Paper, “Family Life Education: A Profession With a Proven Return on Investment,” Family Life Educators play an important role in prevention education, outreach and engagement methods, and current and future funding models. A core concept within FLE is that “societal problems such as substance abuse, domestic violence, unemployment, debt, and child abuse can be more effectively addressed from a perspective that considers the individual and family as part of larger systems” (2018; https://bit.ly/2ZtiAoS). Knowledge of Family Science and FLE can be applied to prevent or minimize many of these problems though classes, programs, and publications and other educational efforts. Beyond prevention, Darling, Cassidy, and Powell (2014) noted in their book Family Life Education: Working With Families Across the Lifespan that many intervention strategies rely on providing some level of education, including the teaching of new skills to help avoid similar problems in the future.

Opportunities for Family Life Educators

The field of FLE identifies the content, knowledge, skills, and abilities needed for effective practice. The Certified Family Life Educator (CFLE) credential provides a mechanism for recognizing expertise.

CFLEs’ training and experience in Family Science and FLE, and knowledge about best practices, leaves them uniquely qualified to create and administer programs focused on preventing violence, homelessness, and substance abuse and to teach about anger management, conflict resolution, communication skills, money and resource management, parenting education, job skills, and more. Family Life Educators have been doing this work for years, as demonstrated through the many articles in the CFLE newsletter Network that highlight the work of CFLEs working in substance abuse prevention programs, schools, housing, trauma-informed education, adverse childhood experiences, violence prevention, and incarceration. Many of these articles highlight the preventive and proactive efforts carried out by Family Life Educators.

As communities throughout the United States discuss what a reorganization of police and social services would look like, they are considering how to allocate funds and resources to programs that prevent problems, support families, reduce the need for intervention, and provide strategies for minimizing future problems. It is time to bring attention to the qualified workforce of Family Life Educators. They need to be working alongside social workers and therapists in meeting the needs of the members of our society.

A Call to Action

It is important that we act during this important moment in our country’s history. CFLEs and NCFR members need to get involved in their community to make sure that those involved in implementing change understand the role of strong families in reducing social problems. We need to make sure they know about Family Science and FLE and that CFLEs and Family Science graduates are available to design and implement programs and services aimed at preventing and minimizing problems and increasing the success of intervention efforts. The time to act is now.

Please take advantage of NCFR’s discussion forums to network with your colleagues and share ideas and strategies for making sure efforts to restructure how society addresses public safety includes FLE and Family Science.