EMBRACE means recognizing, respecting, and responding to ethnic and cultural diversity, different family forms, and multiple environmental contexts of families raising children. EMBRACE also means reaching out to parents and caregivers who differ in preferred communication and learning approaches, sexual orientation, English language proficiency, access to basic resources, and levels of literacy.

Critical EMBRACE Practices

To EMBRACE, a parenting educator will

  • Locate, customize, or create curricula, instructional approaches, participation costs, and program delivery methods to fit family strengths, needs, and preferences.
  • Support diversity by recruiting parent leadership for programs and consulting with parents on curriculum and instructional processes on a continuing basis.
  • Consider the relationship between the parent educator’s identity and that of participants, minimizing power differences and cultivating connections and relationships within and across cultural, ethnic, and other group characteristics.
  • Include discussions and celebrations that honor the pertinent cultural or family history, spiritual and secular values, communication styles, and current challenges of all participating groups.
  • Facilitate access to family support and social services that are culturally appropriate for families who need and want them.
  • Make parenting education accessible to different groups by adapting schedules, forms, or locations for different groups.

Examples of Specific Professional Objectives for EMBRACE

The following parenting educator behaviors serve as examples of specific objectives based on the critical practices for EMBRACE.

The parenting educator should be able to

  • Describe the unique characteristics, circumstances, strengths, and challenges of targeted parent groups before the educational program begins.
  • Demonstrate sensitivity and confidence in interactions with parents from a variety of backgrounds.
  • Demonstrate the ability to discuss parenting in clear language, using nonjudgmental terms with parents from a variety of backgrounds.
  • Describe the procedures for locating and using family support services in the targeted community and for parents to identify their personal support networks.
  • Describe a variety of approaches for delivering parenting education to various family types.

What We Know About EMBRACE

Great diversity exists in families in terms of personalities, values, learning preferences, and ethnic, experiential, and cultural backgrounds. In addition, children in families contribute their own unique challenges. Along with individual and group diversity, families are affected by the ecological contexts and social realities in which they live (Myers-Walls, 2000).

Parenting educators must be sensitive to diversity in order to provide quality programs to a variety of individuals as well as to specific populations that are comprised predominantly of a single ethnicity, culture, or family form (Arcus, 1992).

Individual families or groups of families vary in their access to basic resources and in the characteristics of their neighborhoods. Some ethnic or cultural groups may experience discrimination in employment, housing, and other areas. Family forms vary greatly according to such characteristics as marital status, numbers and ages of children and parenting adults, structural relationships between adults and children, gender dynamics, and sexual orientation.

Individual family members have unique family histories, life circumstances, beliefs and values, learning preferences, and education and literacy levels. For example, the challenges and resources of teen mothers are different from those of adult single fathers or those of blended families. Some families and parenting education groups represent one or more intersecting categories, and parenting educators may be called upon to structure programs that will be sensitive to very different life stories (Myers-Walls, 2000).

Parenting education programs and processes should be adapted to meet the needs of specific participants and groups. A one-size fits all approach is not as effective as customized approaches (Arcus, 1992, 1995; Cross, 1996; Myers-Walls, 2000; Weissbourd & Kagan, 1989). On the other hand, completely customized materials are not always feasible or advisable given the complexity and dynamic nature of diverse families (Wiley & Ebata, 2004). Because family circumstances have changed markedly in recent years, parenting educators have been challenged to find effective strategies to provide appropriate educational experiences (Arcus, 1995).

A series of evening classes does not fit the needs of all parents. Home visits, school- and community-based family activities, newsletters, online learning, and work-site seminars are examples of alternate strategies for offering parenting education to greater numbers of people in the place, at the time, and in the form that will be most effective and accessible.

A variety of teaching strategies are more likely to accommodate individual learning styles than a single approach (see the EDUCATE section, pages 36-42). Attention must be paid to native language, format, and literacy level in printed material, and attention to building trust and emotional safety is critical in group settings.

Three main types of culturally sensitive programs have been identified: translated, culturally adapted, and culturally specific (Cheng Gorman & Balter, 1997).

A traditional program that has been rendered into a target population’s language is a translated program.

A traditional program that has been designed to include some of the values and traditions of the target population is a culturally adapted program.

A program created for a specific population from the beginning is a culturally specific program.

Parenting educators are most effective when they are sensitive to cultural traditions, expectations, and child-rearing patterns. For groups of specific ethnic or cultural populations, geographic regions, or specific family forms, qualified parenting educators who are members of those groups are often able to make contacts and interact more effectively than similarly qualified educators who are not. However, it is often not possible to match a specific group with a qualified parenting educator representative of that group. In any case, all parenting educators need to be knowledgeable about, and sensitive to, the specific populations with which they are working (Cross, 1996; Myers-Walls, 2000; Ortega & Nunez, 1997; Weissbourd & Kagan, 1989). Parenting education also benefits from the wisdom of participants. The group itself benefits from listening to individual parents’ perceptions whether they are based on unique cultural history or keen personal sensitivity.

Building trust and demonstrating respect is particularly important when a parenting educator is not a member of a targeted ethnic or cultural group. Honoring specific aspects of cultural history and values helps in the trust-building process, especially when the history and values are related to parenting practices.

Parenting educators’ values related to parenting are affected by their own cultural experiences in addition to the knowledge they have gained about parenting and children’s development. Self-reflection on this process (see the GROW section, pages 9-15) can help parenting educators more sensitively assist other parents through the process of reconciling knowledge about parenting practices that nurture positive child development and possibly conflicting customary practices from the same or a different cultural heritage.

For example, when corporal punishment is a common practice in a culture, an effective strategy includes acknowledging how difficult it can be to confront this issue then challenging parents to use new, more effective, and more nurturing ways to discipline children (Asian Pacific Family Resource Center, 1997; Cross, 1996).

Many groups are struggling with issues related to preserving their ethnic or cultural heritage and the acculturation of their children into the predominant or popular peer culture. Parent-child relationships may be strengthened by participation in culturally specific activities with children that improve communication and build cultural pride and self-esteem (Asian Pacific Family Resource Center, 1997; Cross, 1996).

The process of acculturation is complex and involves deeply held values and unique life experiences. Parenting educators will find in any group of parents many unique ways of adapting to the predominant culture (Garcia, 1994). It is important to treat each individual’s own experiences with this process respectfully. It can be helpful to remember that personality differences between individuals within an ethnic or cultural group may be as great as the differences between ethnic and cultural groups.

An effective way to ensure sensitivity to diverse family forms and populations is to involve parents in advisory committees and program planning and to call on them as sources of regular feedback. In programs where families are seen as partners with program staff in an atmosphere of mutual respect, the expertise of families is brought into the educational process, and program effectiveness is increased (Doherty, 2000; Weissbourd & Kagan, 1989).

Involving parents in the design, governance, and delivery of parenting education programs is likely to improve program effectiveness, responsiveness, and cultural sensitivity, resulting in greater family trust and empowerment, greater family enrollment and retention, and positive outcomes for children and families (Ahsan, 1999; Foster 1999).

The relationship between the parenting educator and the participants is also important (see the EDUCATE section)

A collaboration between the educator and parents, each of whom brings strengths and resources to the educational experience, is likely to be more effective among diverse populations of families than the traditional “expert” approach, which is usually built into packaged curricula where the parenting educator presents predetermined information and where parents have little chance to affect the content or learning process (Myers-Walls, 2000).

Access to family support services is critical in order for parenting education to be effective. When basic needs are not met, or a family is experiencing a crisis, the care of children is likely to be compromised, not to mention the parent’s ability to focus on learning new parenting strategies. Families experiencing extreme economic stress, unemployment, substance-abuse, or marital conflict are at greatest risk of child neglect and maltreatment (Baumrind, 1994; Dunst & Leet, 1994). Early and continuing support strengthens the family and works to prevent family dysfunction (Weissbourd, 1987). Parenting programs should incorporate into their structure information on how to access culturally appropriate family support services. The levels of attention and funding directed toward teaching people how to access family support services usually decline when the circumstances of the populations involved improve. Yet, all parents benefit from culturally appropriate family support and educational services.

Year published or updated
References & Resources

Ahsan, N. (1999). Forging equal partnerships. Special focus: Parents are leaders. America’s Family Support Magazine, 18(1), 19-20.

Arcus, M. E. (1992). Family life education: Toward the 21st Century. Family Relations, 41, 390-393.

Arcus, M. E. (1995). Advances in family life education: Past, present, and future. Family Relations, 44, 336-344.

Asian Pacific Family Resource Center (1997). Culture is key to building trust with families. Family Resource Coalition of America Report, 16, 9.

Cheng Gorman, J., & Balter, L. (1997). Culturally sensitive parent education: A critical review of quantitative research. Review of Educational Research, 67(3), 339-369.

Cross, T. (1996). Developing a knowledge base to support cultural competence. Prevention Report, 1, 2-5.

DeBord, K. & Ferrer, M. (2001). Working with Latino parents/families. National Children, Youth, and Families Educational Network. Retrieved from http://www.cyfernet.org/parent/latinofam.html

Doherty, W. J. (2000). Family science and family citizenship: Toward a model of community partnership with families. Family Relations, 49, 319-325.

Dunst, C. J., & Leet, H. E. (1994). Measuring the adequacy of resources in households with young children. In C. J. Dunst, C. M. Trivette, & A. G. Deal (eds.), Supporting and strengthening families: Methods, strategies, and practices (pp. 105-114). Cambridge, MA: Brookline Books.

Foster, R. (1999). Who best represents the voice of parents? Special focus: Parents are leaders. America’s Family Support Magazine, 18(1), 19-20.

Garcia, E. (1994). Addressing the challenges of diversity. In S. Kagan & B. Weissbourd (eds.), Putting families first: America’s family support movement and the challenge of change (pp. 243-275). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Myers-Walls, J. A. (2000). Family diversity and family life education. In D. H. Demo, K. R. Allen, & M. A. Fine (eds.), Handbook of family diversity (pp. 359-379). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Ortega, R. M., & Nunez, E. V. (1997). Latino families and child welfare. Family Resource Coalition of America Report, 16, 8.

Weissbourd, B. (1987). A brief history of family support programs. In S. L. Kagan, D. R. Powell, B. Weissbourd, & E. F. Ziegler (eds.), America’s family support programs, (pp. 207-227). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Weissbourd, B., & Kagan, S. L. (1989). Family support programs: Catalysts for change. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 59(1), 20-31.

Wiley, A & Ebata, A. (2004). Reaching “The American Family”: Making diversity real in family life education. Family Relations, 53(3), 273-81.

Author(s), Presenter(s)
DeBord, K., Bower, D., Goddard, W. H., Kirby, J., Kobbe, A. M., Myers-Walls, J. A., Mulroy, M., and Ozretich, R. A.