Executive Review: Digging Through NCFR history

Diane Cushman, NCFR Executive Director
Diane Cushman

For NCFR’s 75th anniversary (2013), staff member Jason Samuels and former NCFR executive director Dr. Mary Jo Czaplewski (1984–1999), spent Thursdays at the University of Minnesota’s Andersen Library going through the Social Welfare History Archives (lib.umn.edu/swha), which houses decades of NCFR historical documents. Their goal was to update The National Council on Family Relations: A Fifty-Year History, 1938–1987 (by James Walters and Ruth Jewson) for release as part of NCFR’s 75th-anniversary celebration. The results of their work can be found on NCFR’s website as a living history of the first 75 years of NCFR (history.ncfr.org).   

NCFR Sections

Of particular interest in NCFR’s history is the development and role of special-interest sections. These began just a year after the formation of NCFR, in 1939, and were intended to “provide a means of increasing communication and interaction among NCFR members of similar interest within the framework of the larger organization.” Three of our current sections span the entire 79 years of NCFR’s existence: Education, Counseling, and Research. Sections that have come and gone over the years include Eugenics and the Family (1939), Marriage and Family Law (1939–1956), Economic Basis of the Family (1939–1953), Youth and Its Problems (1939, 1943, and 1946), Teacher Preparation (1949–1951), Mass Media (1949–1958), Parent Education (1951–1962), Family Development Through Cooperative Nursery School (1953–1961), Housing and Family Welfare (1953–1956), and Special Emphases (1962–1977).

In addition to the three sections that began in 1939, we have seven additional active sections:

  • Family Action (1969–1989), which later changed its name to Family Policy (1990)
  • International (1977)
  • Ethnic Minorities (1979)
  • Family Discipline (1981–1991), which changed its name to Family Science (1992) and then Advancing Family Science (2014)
  • Religion and Family Life (1984), which changed its name to Religion, Spirituality, and Family (2015)
  • Family and Health (1984), which changed its name to Families and Health (2014)
  • Feminism and Family Studies (1986)

Section Functions

From the beginning, NCFR founders envisioned sections as the structures through which members with common interests would work together to fulfill the mission of NCFR. One example of this is the Planning Committee of the NCFR Annual Conference, which comprises a representative from each section. Through sections, conference calls are issued and proposals are submitted, reviewed, scored, selected, and supported. Additionally, sections are encouraged to submit proposals for special projects to the NCFR Board of Directors; to establish committees for special activities; to recognize research, scholarly work, and other contributions by professionals and students; to provide representation for priority issues of concern to the section; and to support NCFR focus groups.   

Recently I was asked by an NCFR member about the purpose and function of sections. Assuming it was a legitimate question, I responded much as I just laid out in the previous paragraph. Later, I came to realize that the question may have been asked out of frustration. When the Board of Directors or NCFR staff develop programs, it may seem like they are usurping the work of the sections.   

Engaging Sections and Their Members

Several years ago, NCFR staff began to encourage sections to look beyond the annual conference and consider other activities that would be of interest to their members. NCFR provided tools to the sections to accomplish their required business through the email discussion Listservs and surveys, such as requesting and receiving nominations for section elections, approving minutes of annual business meetings, and surveying section members about their interests. The intention of shifting this work online was to free up the meeting agendas at the annual conference for section members to use their time to network, share knowledge, and talk about research and practice of common interest. Many sections have been very successful at reinvigorating their membership by conducting resource exchanges during their annual face-to-face meeting at the conference. Other sections have developed creative ways to honor their members through mentoring and recognition programs.

Staff and Board Support of Sections

Each year the section chairs complete an annual plan. Staff members and the Board of Directors review these plans; through this and other communications, we learn of opportunities to support the work of the sections. I’m particularly eager to have staff work with the Advancing Family Science Section in 2016 to create more visibility for the discipline of Family Science.

Structural Challenges

With so much focus and effort required for the annual conference, it may be difficult for Section Chairs to engage in additional projects and take on more work. With new Section Chairs every two years, there is also the problem of constant turnover and the challenges of following through. Maybe there are opportunities to create additional structures within sections that can endure from year to year and maintain momentum on special projects. If you have ideas on how to organize sections so they are better suited to special projects, please share those with your section leaders, NCFR staff, or Board members.

Sections as the Place Where NCFR Happens

If you have ever said, “I wish NCFR would ___________,” or “How come NCFR doesn’t have a ___________ program?,” then you have identified an unmet need. Please share your ideas with your section members, the NCFR Board of Directors, and NCFR staff. NCFR exists to do the following:

  • provide opportunities for professional development and knowledge development in the areas of family research, theory, education, policy, and practice
  • support the dissemination and application of research- and theory-based information about the well-being of families
  • represent professionals in the field of Family Science by establishing standards for research, education, and practice and by advocating for the development and advancement of the profession

The vision is that NCFR members will find ways to accomplish these ends through engaging members with common interests. We are eternally grateful to the members who volunteer to do webinars, serve on committees, hold office, and create programs like the NCFR Honors Program, the online Resource Library, the CFLE exam and new program exit exam, webinars, Degree Programs Guide, resource collections, affiliates, and focus groups. We invite you to envision new ways that NCFR and its members can use its vast wealth of knowledge to be relevant to today’s families and society.

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