Family Science Report: NCFR and the United Nations

Jennifer Crosswhite, Ph.D., CFLE, Director of Research and Policy Education
Jennifer Crosswhite

This article originally appeared across two columns in 2017 issues of NCFR Report.

Did you know that NCFR has been involved with the United Nations (U.N.) since the late 1940s, at least indirectly through the International Union of Family Organizations? NCFR currently holds a nongovernmental organization (NGO) consultative status with the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs. This consultative status provides opportunities for our representatives to engage in United Nations events and present family research. Drs. Mihaela Robila and Bahira Sherif Trask are NCFR's current U.N. representatives. They follow Dr. Marilyn Bensman, who began as the U.N. representative in 1992, and Dr. Elizabeth Force, who was the representative for 31 years prior to Dr. Bensman. Several other NCFR members have been involved with the United Nations over time.

In this article, NCFR's current U.N. representatives share about their involvement with the organization.

First, Dr. Robila, NCFR's main representative, shares her research on family functioning and family policies in the context of her work with the United Nations. She also provides a list of U.N. resources to learn more about the family-relevant divisions of the organization. Later on in this article, Dr. Trask shares her work on globalization and policies that can support and strengthen families, and how it those relate to the United Nations.

I hope you enjoy, and please contact any of us with questions.

Family Policies and United Nations

Mihaela Robila

Mihaela Robila, Ph.D., CFLE, Professor and Deputy Chair, Human Development and Family Studies, Queens College, City University of New York

The thing I like the most about living in New York City is its cultural diversity. With about 37% of its residents being born outside the United States (, New York City presents itself as one of the most diverse cities in the U.S. and globally, with people coming from all over the world. The city's great cultural diversity is also reflected in its educational institutions. Queens College of the City University of New York, where I am professor of human development and family studies, is located in Queens, the most diverse county in the U.S., with students coming from 150 countries. For somebody like me, with scholarship and interests focused on cultural diversity, there is no better place to live than New York City! It is truly a privilege and a great learning opportunity to have a chance to interact with people from so many different places.

From my own cultural background, I have a strong research interest in family functioning, immigration, and family policies in Eastern Europe that has extended to family functioning and family policies across the globe. For example, I edited the Handbook on Family Policies Across the Globe (2014), for which I invited colleagues from 28 countries to write chapters on family policy development, implementation, and evaluation in their countries. Each chapter includes sections on socioeconomic and political contexts and their impact on families, family demographics, and family policy developments and challenges. Because of my research, I received two Fulbright Specialist Awards from the U.S. Department of State (2012 and November 2016). I also was elected a fellow in three of the American Psychological Association divisions between 2011 and 2013: International, Family Psychology, and Child and Family Policy.

Another thing I like about living in New York City is the opportunity to collaborate with great programs and institutions, such as the United Nations. As an international scholar and immigrant myself, I was fascinated with how the United Nations works and the projects it undertakes. Right after becoming a faculty member at Queens College in 2003, I contacted the U.N. Focal Point on the Family in the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA). The Family Program is one of the areas in the Social Integration Branch, in the Division of Social Policy and Development (DSPD) in UNDESA at the U.N. Secretariat. Soon after, I was invited by the Family Program to participate in several projects focused on family policies in Eastern Europe. Since then, I have continuously collaborated with the U.N. Family Program on family policies at a broader, global level.

While attending events at the United Nations, I learned about the U.N. Committee on the Family (, which includes many NGOs, including NCFR. At that time, NCFR was represented by Dr. Marilyn Bensman. I met Marilyn at the 2008 NCFR Annual Conference, which led to me becoming an alternate representative to the United Nations and, in 2009, NCFR's main representative. In this capacity I participate in different meetings at the United Nations, act as a liaison between NCFR and the United Nations, and organize sessions at the NCFR Annual Conference that emphasize the U.N. agenda. For example:

  • In 2014, for the 20th anniversary of the United Nations International Year of the Family (IYF), I organized a symposium at the 2013 NCFR Annual Conference with Renata Kaczmarska, United Nations Focal Point on the Family.
  • In 2014, I collaborated with Diane Cushman (NCFR executive director), Renata Kaczmarska, and Ignacio Socias (International Federation for Family Development) to organize the North America U.N. Expert Group Meeting (EGM) in Mexico City, Mexico, along with other stakeholders from around the world, for the 20th anniversary of the IYF. Two additional NCFR members, Drs. Bahira Sherif Trask and Linda Burton, participated in the meeting. The final report and expert papers from this meeting were used to write the 2014 Report of the Secretary-General on the observance of the 20th anniversary of the IYF.
  • In 2016, I presented an overview of NCFR as the premier professional organization for the multidisciplinary understanding of families at the EGM in New York titled "Family Policies and the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda." The presentation underlined NCFR activities that inform policy, including publication of peer-reviewed journals, the annual conference, research and policy briefs, and NCFR's engagement and resources: focus groups, workshops, mentoring, and the Certified Family Life Educator credential, among others.

Collaborating with the United Nations has been a great experience and has provided wonderful learning opportunities. There are several U.N. agencies and programs that might be of interest to NCFR members, which are listed below. Their websites contain a plethora of information about different topics, meetings, articles, policy briefs, and videos.

Working With the UN to Address Global Family Concerns

Bahira Sherif Trask

Bahira Sherif Trask, Ph.D., Professor and Chair, Human Development and Family Studies, University of Delaware, [email protected]

One of the highlights of my professional career has been the opportunity to represent NCFR at the U.N. and, simultaneously, to participate in a series of conferences and expert group meetings on family policy–related issues in New York, Doha, Qatar, and Mexico City, Mexico. My initial involvement came about quite surreptitiously. My book Globalization and Families: Accelerated Systemic Social Change (2010) had recently been published and was, unbeknownst to me, read by several individuals involved with the U.N. Consequently, in 2011, I was invited to be the opening speaker at the expert group meeting “Assessing Family Policies.” This led to subsequent invitations, including having various invited papers published within the U.N. network and on related websites. As a result of my successful interactions, I was invited by NCFR to be one of their representatives to the U.N. through the council’s relationship as an affiliated nongovernmental organization (NGO).  

In my capacity as a U.N. representative for NCFR, I act as a liaison between NCFR and the U.N., present my research to various U.N. groups, and help organize sessions at the NCFR Annual Conference that pertain to the U.N.

For the sake of clarity, it is important to understand that the United Nations comprises a variety of entities that include, among others, the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), and the Secretariat, all of which provide studies and information for the UN’s work. NGOs may be granted consultative status to the U.N. through ECOSOC and other agencies in order to partake in the activities of the U.N. NCFR belongs to this category. Such NGOs work separately and together with the internal U.N. units to formulate recommendations on policies, many of which are then passed on to the General Assembly (the part of the U.N. usually seen on television). The 17 new Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda (see are the result of a complex process of negotiations between many of these various entities, including, at times, the NGOs that represent civil society.

The work I have presented at the U.N. is closely related to my scholarship on the relationship between globalization and economic and family changes in Western and non-Western countries. In particular, I focus on the worldwide phenomenon of an increased number of women in the global paid labor force and the complexities surrounding this occurrence. While working for pay and maintaining one’s domestic responsibilities are becoming increasingly normative experiences across the globe, it is false to assume that employment universally empowers women. The flip side is that we also cannot assume that women are uniformly the victims of a new globalized market economy. Instead, globalization is accompanied by both opportunities and challenges for women and men, depending on myriad factors, including social class, education, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, regionality, and individual circumstances. That said, the increase in women’s labor force participation is an unprecedented, multifaceted, global phenomenon that is closely tied to family change.

In the past year alone, I participated in the following United Nations activities:

Invited Publications

  • Trask, B. S. (2016). Improving health and well-being by promoting gender equality and empowerment: The need for a family-centered implementation of the new Sustainable Development Goals 1–5. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Division for Social Policy and Development. Expert Group Meeting on Family Policies and the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, New York.

Trask, B. S. (2016). Children, human rights and the United Nations Convention

Invited United Nations Presentations

  • Trask, B. S. (2016, May 12–13). Improving Health and Well-Being by Promoting Gender Equality and Empowerment: The Need for a Family-Centered Implementation of the New Sustainable Development Goals 1- –5. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Division for Social Policy and Development. Expert Group Meeting on Family Policies and the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, New York. Retrieved from
  • Trask, B. S. (2016, February). Strategies for strengthening families for sustainable development. NGO on the Family & The Permanent Mission of Qatar. 54th Session of the Commission on Social Development, United Nations, New York.
  • Trask, B. S. (2016, February). Work-–family balance, social development and the 2030 agenda: The recognition, need and implementation of culturally specific policies. The Permanent Mission of Qatar. 54th Session of the Commission on Social Development, United Nations, New York.

Organized and Chaired NCFR Special Session:

For this year’s annual conference in Minneapolis I organized a special session on the new U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted in 2015, and the 2030 U.N. Agenda. The session, “Linking the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and Family Science: Curricular, Research, and Policy Implications and Applications,” focused on how to incorporate the new 2030 SDG’s into every aspect of our Family Science activities: curriculum and the classroom, research and scholarship, policymaking (specifically with a family impact lens), and activist pursuits. By addressing each of these areas, the panel hoped to introduce the NCFR audience to the new SDGs, provide ideas for how to include the SDGs into our discipline’s various activities, and provide recommendations that can further social development in the United States and abroad.

I would like to end by drawing attention to the following: This time of globalization, while marked by enormous social changes and upheavals, also provides new opportunities. The same developments that are creating a global labor market are also interwoven with processes that allow for new concepts to spread about human rights, women’s rights and empowerment, and economic resourcefulness. Moreover, individuals are increasingly able to come together in virtual global spaces and react to those aspects of their lives and circumstances with which they are dissatisfied. They are able to mobilize, advocate, and,  at times,  even influence policies and programs to effect change. The United Nations’ SDGs focus broadly on ending poverty, fighting inequality and injustice, and tackling climate change by 2030. They provide an immense opportunity for individuals, families, communities, businesses, NGOs, and states to come together to address local and global concerns brought on in part by globalization. NCFR and its members can contribute by providing empirical research, policy briefs, and programmatic suggestions that highlight the critical role that families play in societies in terms of assisting with implementing the 2030 Agenda.

Copyright © 2017 National Council on Family Relations (NCFR). Contact NCFR for permission to reprint, reproduce, disseminate, or distribute by any means.