Overview and Introduction: Negative Spaces

Ted G. Futris, Ph.D., CFLE, Professor and Extension Specialist, Family Focus Editor, Department of Human Development and Family Science, University of Georgia
/ Fall 2020 NCFR Report
Ted Futris

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The 2020 conference theme, “Family Expansions, Expanding Families: Contouring Family Science’s Negative Spaces,” encourages us to critically reflect on past and present family scholarship and engage in the discovery of unimaginable questions that will drive the discipline forward. According to 2020 Conference Program Chair Dr. Brad van Eeden-Moorefield, “[t]he theme places a particular emphasis on taking time to reflect and look for elements of family life that not only are present or emerging, but also those that become visible with the use of a new or yet to be discovered perspective or vantage point.” In this issue of NCFR Report, as he reflects on the focus of this year’s conference, Brad challenges us to “act with greater intention and purpose to contribute to a safer, more secure, and a more just tomorrow for families” while also reminding us that such “progress often is a result of the hidden work and sacrifices of marginalized individuals and their families.” The aim of this issue of Family Focus is to bring attention to, and make visible, these negative spaces that exist within our research, evidence-supported practices, educational pedagogies, and policies. Our contributing authors share a few examples of how scholarship can help us better understand and support the dynamic and fluid nature of families.

To open this issue, the first two articles call upon Family Scientists to rise up and address the negative spaces—recent events have reminded us—that still perpetuate the marginalization of racially and ethnically diverse families. Bill Anderson and Miranda Bejda challenge us to critically examine our biases, stereotypes, and habitual thinking concerning institutionalized discrimination. The authors call for more intentional efforts in preparing students to question systemic and even subtle beliefs and practices that perpetuate racial inequity and exploitation. Next, guided by critical race theory, Megan Fitzgerald and her co-authors, call Family Science professionals to action, through scholarship and advocacy, to support genuine partnerships and facilitate trusting relationships between schools and families in order to address systemic oppression in the education system that marginalizes and harms racially and ethnically diverse families.

Next, Anne F. Farrell, Morgan E. Cooley, and Cara Karter highlight the challenges children and families involved in the child welfare system have with accessing adequate and quality prevention services. The authors describe how the Family First Prevention Services Act provides a critical opportunity to advance evidence-based intervention and prevention services and how Family Scientists are uniquely positioned to offer leadership in the design, implementation, and rigorous evaluation of high-quality services that can move the discipline forward and promote improved outcomes for families facing adversity. The negative space in intervention and prevention services is further reinforced by Tiffany L. Clyde and Alan J. Hawkins. Despite a growing need for premarital interventions, the authors describe how premarital education has become a negative space in Family Science and social sciences. Clyde and Hawkins call for more attention to premarital education promotion policies, and most importantly the effective implementation of these policies and interventions.

Supporting families with accessing emotional support to manage their elevated stress is needed now more than ever as parents and children struggle with stress caused by our current pandemic. Our last two articles remind us of the demand for individualized family support services, and the value of applying research and best-practices in the delivery of these services. Family therapist Jane B. Brooks illustrates how national data can be used to inform our understanding of the stress that families are experiencing, and that research and theory offer helpful insight on how to support parents with managing their emotional distress and maintaining positive family bonds. Last, Margaret E. Machara, Debbie Kruenegel-Farr, and Kimberly Allen describe family life coaching as a relatively new approach to enhancing family functioning. Family life coaches operate in a negative space to integrate their knowledge of Family Science and Family Life Education with the application of coaching techniques that empower families to discover their strengths, find opportunities to overcome obstacles, and achieve their self-identified goals.

In close, it is my hope that these articles shine some light on possible negative spaces that exist within our scholarly work that can effectively enhance the well-being of families and communities. And, as you (hopefully will) participate in this year’s virtual NCFR conference, I join Brad in challenging you to broaden your perspective and look for the negative space – that which “has always been there waiting to be seen.” What innovative perspectives, approaches, and strategies might be salient to expanding Family Science research, practice, and policy that will advance the everyday experiences of families?