You are seeing this message because your web browser does not support basic web standards. Find out more about why this message is appearing and what you can do to make your experience on this site better.

The Harvard Family Research Project separated from the Harvard Graduate School of Education to become the Global Family Research Project as of January 1, 2017. It is no longer affiliated with Harvard University.

Terms of Use ▼

David Diehl of Family Support America outlines their top evaluation projects: compiling an online national database of family support programs and developing new ways to measure the effectiveness of family support programs.

Since 1981, Family Support America (formerly Family Resource Coalition of America) has worked to strengthen the family support field. Over the last several years, this work has addressed the issues of evaluation and measurement. Our work seeks to align evaluation practice with the philosophy and practice of family support—to explore the ways in which evaluation can be done in more “family supportive” ways. This article describes two of our more noteworthy efforts, both of which have been supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The National Family Support Mapping Project
The National Family Support Mapping Project is an effort to locate and collect information on every family support program in the country and create a comprehensive national database. This project arose in response to some simple, but important questions: How many family support programs are there? What families are they serving? What are the services and programs being offered? What are the funding sources for these programs?

To answer these and other questions, the Mapping Project was launched in the summer of 2000. Each participating program completes a questionnaire on its mission, the population it serves, the budget and size of the program, and details about the services and resources that it provides. We update this information and display it at the Family Support America website (

Related Resources

Smith, T. W. (1999). The Emerging 21st Century American Family. Chicago, IL: National Opinion Research Center, University of Chicago. This paper provides an overview of the changes to the American family over the last 30 years, focusing on family composition, roles, and values.

Blank, S. (2000). Good Works: Highlights of a Study on the Center for Family Life. Baltimore, MD: Annie E. Casey Foundation. This report, about a family-service agency committed to improving the well-being of families, highlights the agency’s success and suggests some of the reasons for it.

Ahsan, N., & Cramer, L. (1998). How Are We Doing? A Program Self Assessment Toolkit for the Family Support Field. Chicago, IL: Family Support America. This toolkit gives family support programs specific benchmarks to help them enact the family support principles.

Interestingly, the Mapping Project surfaced key questions about what qualifies as “family support.” Family Support America has developed a Family Support Typology that describes five basic models of how family support is delivered. We use the typology to organize the Mapping Project and create appropriate surveys for each of the five models. The five models are:

  1. Family Support Centers. Free-standing, stand-alone centers, typically known as family support or family resource centers.

  2. Family Support Programs Nested within Larger Organizations. Programs that are part of larger organizations (for example, schools, libraries, and programs located in Boys and Girls Clubs).

  3. Organizations that Adopt and Work from the Principles of Family Support. Family support values and principles can be expressed in a whole range of settings, even if a concrete family support program or center is not present (for example, in the work of child welfare agencies and businesses).

  4. Community-Level Systems of Care. Networks of multiple family support sites that represent a partnership between agencies and organizations to create a community-wide system of family support delivery.

  5. Comprehensive Community Collaborative Structures. As part of the devolution of power to localities and communities, local “collaboratives” have arisen for the primary purpose of planning and organizing human services at the community level.

“Promotional Indicators” of Family Support
The other major way in which Family Support America has been pursuing “family supportive” evaluation is developing methodologies that measure the effectiveness of family support practice. We believe that if a primary goal of family support programs is to enhance the capacities of children and families, then we should measure family strengths and capacities.

Building on the work of Carl Dunst and Carol Trivette1, Family Support America has been working with eight states to develop “promotional indicators” as measures of family support. We are interested in collecting information on promotional indicators, which measure the positive development of families, rather than deficit-based indicators, which measure the negative aspects of families. (See Table 1 for examples of promotional indicators.)

Table 1: Examples of Promotional Indicators

  • Percent of children entering kindergarten demonstrating appropriate progress in several areas (physical-motor, cognitive, language, social and emotional development).
  • Percent of parents actively engaged in their children’s learning and education.
  • Percent of adults who have someone to rely on (a support network).
  • Percent of youth whose families set clear expectations, rules, and consequences.

Family Support America has worked with several of its state partners to form the Cross-State Work Team on Promotional Indicators. This team has been the driving force in exploring promotional indicators in state and community well-being frameworks. This group has worked to infuse promotional indicators into their state and community reports and has identified a “Core List” of promotional indicators that they recommend for states and communities interested in measuring positive development.

The concept of promotional indicators also has applications at the level of program evaluation. For programs that build capacities and contribute to positive development, promotional indicators are appropriate for measuring this change. As the saying goes, “What gets measured, gets done.”

The concept of promotional indicators has been useful in several ways:

  • It has helped to shed light on the current imbalance between deficit-based indicators (where we have lots of information available) and promotional indicators (where we currently have very little information).

  • Because many promotional indicators tend to be “steps-on-the-way” to achievement of longer term outcomes, they have helped to highlight the importance of measuring intermediate markers of development instead of focusing exclusively on the ultimate outcome.

  • Promotional indicators encourage people to think about the linkages between program practice and evaluation practice. They also encourage program planners to consider the ways in which their activities lead to increased strengths or capacities.

David C. Diehl, Ph.D.
Senior Advisor, Research and Evaluation
Family Support America
Virtual Office (Non-Chicago Based)
4506 Bunny Run
Austin, TX 78746

For more information on the National Family Support Mapping Project, please contact Guy Schingoethe at For more information on promotional indicators please contact David Diehl at For more general information please call 312-338-0900 or visit

‹ Previous Article | Table of Contents | Next Article ›

© 2016 Presidents and Fellows of Harvard College
Published by Harvard Family Research Project