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23 Aug 2021

Family Science 101: What It Is and Why It Matters

As a team comprised primarily of family scientists, Military REACH is dedicated to sharing knowledge and insight from family research that focuses specifically on military families. So, let’s review what family science is and why it matters.

Science refers to the systematic pursuit of knowledge related to phenomena of interest through observation, theoretical explanation, and experimentation. Although many people may think about the physical sciences (e.g., biology, chemistry) when they hear the term, science is applied in a wide variety of fields related to the human experience as well.

What is Family Science?

Born in the early 1900s, family science is the discipline in which scientific principles are applied to the study of families, interpersonal relationships, and the dynamic environments in which they interact. Family science draws upon many other disciplines (e.g., sociology, psychology, home economics) to capture a more holistic understanding of families’ lived experiences. According to the National Council on Family Relations, a professional organization focused on family research, practice, and education, there are five distinct characteristics that make family science a unique discipline. Family science is:

  1. Focused on relationships between individuals, family groups, and their environmental contexts.
  2. Strengths-oriented and focused on highlighting a family’s strengths so they can be sustainable and self-sufficient.
  3. Preventative when addressing family issues by examining healthy family functioning.
  4. Translation of research findings to practical applications.
  5. Evidence-based through rigorous scientific research.
The field of family science covers a wide variety of family-related topics, and a few examples include parenting and parent-child relationships, romantic relationships and marriage, human development, and early childhood care and education.
Who are Family Scientists?

Family scientists work to better understand family experiences and promote individual and family well-being. These scientists play a key role in furthering our knowledge of family related issues through observation and experimentation, but not every family scientist works in research. Family scientists also include those professionals who apply evidence-based interventions or counseling to families, educate family practitioners, and inform social policies. Examples of professional fields which stem from family science include family life education, marriage and family therapy, social work, family life coaching, and family policymaking. As mentioned before, Military REACH is a specific example of the work family scientists do, as most of our team is comprised of family scientists.

Why does family science matter?

As with any science, it is necessary to put what is learned into practice (Does this sound familiar? Putting research into practice is one of the main goals of Military REACH!). Family science research provides detailed insight into family adversities, risks, and protective factors related to these adversities, and how interactions between family members and their environmental context affect their well-being. This insight is particularly valuable to informing both practice and policy:

  • Informing Practice
    • For helping professionals, family science research is used to develop and evaluate family services and programming. Evidence-based services or programs (i.e., those which are supported by research) are preferred when working with families because there is research to support their effectiveness in addressing the issue or concern. Further, once a program has been developed, studies can evaluate the efficacy of the program in achieving its targeted goals. If those goals are not met, helping professionals may then identify how to revise the program to better serve families.
    • Beyond program evaluation, research can also identify potential risk and protective factors for certain populations. Family scientists can then account for potential risk or protective factors to properly adapt the delivery of services to the unique needs of an individual or family. When reviewing and evaluating military family research publications, the Military REACH team identifies and encourages opportunities to incorporate key findings into family practice.
  • Informing Policy
    • Scientific evidence is also valuable in the development, reform, and implementation of family-related policies at the local, state, and federal levels. When policymakers are informed about key family issues and family processes, they can better create policy solutions that address the needs of those most affected by the issue. Further, research on the effectiveness of a policy to solve an issue may indicate whether policy reform is required. Not all researchers provide in-depth policy recommendations related to their findings, so Military REACH and other mediating organizations identify and advocate for evidence-based family policy development and reform.

Family science, although unfamiliar to some, offers valuable contributions to the livelihood and well-being of individuals and families. This field is continuously expanding our understanding of family experiences and will continue to inform how interventions and policies may best mitigate risks and bolster family strengths. To learn more about family science and key research topics in the field, you can visit the website of the National Council on Family Relations.

Family science is the study of people from conception to death – learning, researching, and understanding humans physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and developmentally.

Haley S.

Family science is important because it is applicable to everyone; people are inherently relational and family science explores how healthy and unhealthy relational patterns influence human well-being. It is such a practical and universal topic!

Ben B.

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