Parents and Families
In general, a parent is an adult that is responsible for and cares for a child, though this definition is not the only one for the term. Generally, the term “family” refers to a nuclear family, consisting of parents and their dependent children, though it is not strictly limited to this scope. “Family” can also refer to other relatives and extended family members, including, but not limited to grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins. It is important to recognize that biological relation is not required for an individual to be categorized as a parent or family member of a child.
Family is generally the first layer of an individual’s social support system. Parents and families are responsible for protecting and promoting the physical and mental health, safety, and development of the children they raise and the family members they support. Risk factors for the development of substance abuse disorders, delinquency, and depression in children and youth are often linked to one’s family circumstance(s) and/or lack thereof, including lack of supervision, neglect, stressful life events, and exposure to violence and/or abuse.
Many lack access to high-quality, affordable child care despite the fact that it increases opportunities for parents and guardians to pursue education and/or earn income, in addition to contributing positively to child health and development. Paid family leave for all working people is another factor that improves the economic stability of families, as parents and caregivers can attend to children or sick family members without losing out on a paycheck. It also benefits employers as paid family and medical leave increases retention, productivity, and labor force participation.
Adults and children in single-parent households are at greater risk for unhealthy behaviors, like smoking and excessive alcohol use, and adverse health outcomes, like depression and suicide. Immigrant parents in the United States, particularly those that are undocumented, experience fear of deportation and separation from their children. This insecurity can keep immigrant parents from accessing health care for their children and participating in programs like CHIP. Even opportunities for parents and families to be engaged with their children outside the home are not available to all. Some parents of color experience exclusion from participating in their childrens’ school system due to differing parenting and behavioral norms. Additionally, parents and family members that are economically poor, disabled, LGBTQ+, and/or of color experience compounding marginalizations and are overall more likely to struggle to thrive and support children and other family members.
Ensuring health equity and equal opportunities for parents and families requires continued dedication to their well-being and acknowledgement of their importance. Special attention should be paid to marginalized groups, especially parents and families of color, in order to improve their access to opportunities, resources, and health equity. Institutionalizing and operationalizing equity and justice throughout the education, child care, child welfare, and health care sectors will require organizations, allies, and systems to deeply center and follow the leadership of people with lived experience. Community-led processes, self-representation, and centering the perspectives and voices of parents and families are a few effective tactics communities can leverage to advance equity and well-being.