Protective Factors for Children

Promoting Protective Factors for In Risk Youth and Families: A Guide for Practitioners

Child protective factors promote positive well-being and reduce the risks of negative outcomes for children who have been exposed to domestic violence and/or experience homelessness. Service providers who work with at-risk children and youth, play an important role in the use of protective factors with their program development. For enhanced efficiency, service providers and practitioners should include program components that support the evidence-based individual, relationship or community level protective factors; collaborate with other organizations and agencies to increase the availability of supportive services, programming and resources; and incorporate an evaluation component to assess the impact of program strategies and interventions on protective factors. A protective factor approach with at risk children not only strengthens children and families but buffers the effects of risk exposure. This guide offers a framework for organizing and applying protective factors for at-risk children, with an emphasis on children exposed to domestic violence and children experiencing homelessness. To learn more, please visit

CITATION: Development Services Group, Inc., & Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2015). Promoting protective factors for in-risk families and youth: A guide for practitioners. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau.

America’s Youngest Outcasts Report: A Report Card on Child Homelessness

In the United States, 1 in every 30 children experience homelessness annually. The early impacts of trauma, such as experiencing homelessness, can adversely affect children’s learning abilities, emotional self-regulation, development, cognitive skills, and social relationships. Because homelessness for children can lead to long-lasting and life altering experiences, the implementation of protective factors by service providers can mitigate the effects of risk exposure. Strategies that protect children and promote positive well-being can include: trauma-informed care; parenting supports to strengthen parent-child relationships and improve parenting practices; the provision of developmentally appropriate programs; education and employment opportunities for caregivers; and the provision of services for caregivers who experience depression to ensure they receive treatment. To learn more about how homelessness impacts children and their families and the ways protective services can reduce risk factors, please visit

CITATION: Bassuk, Ellen, Carmela DeCandia, Corey Beach, and Fred Berman. “America’s Youngest Outcasts Report: A Report Card on Child Homelessness .” The National Center on Family Homelessness. American Institute for Research , November 2014.

Center for the Study of Social Policy: Protective Factors Framework

The Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) designed a Protective Factors Framework within a research-informed approach to increase family strengths, enhance child development and reduce the likelihood of child abuse and neglect. This approach is known as Strengthening Families. Centering around five key protective factors – parental resilience; social connections; knowledge of parenting and child development; concrete support in times of need; and social and emotional competence of children – the CSSP provides guidance and action steps on the implementation of a protective factors framework based on their extensive research in child and family development. To learn more about the Strengthening Families approach and key protective factors, please visit 

CITATION: “Protective Factors Framework.” Center for the Study of Social Policy, January 11, 2019.

Protective Factors Approaches in Child Welfare

Risk factors such as parental stress, substance use, poverty, and adverse childhood experiences (i.e. experiencing homelessness) may increase the probability of child abuse and neglect. For families who are at risk, coping strategies that help mitigate these factors and promote effective parenting and the healthy development and well-being of children and youth are known as protective factors. Acting as a buffer, protective factors can be found in community support, parenting competencies, and economic opportunities. Taking a protective factors approach will help service providers ensure that families at risk of maltreatment build safe, stable, and nurturing relationships and environments for their children. This brief summarizes how providers could incorporate national protective factors approaches to help children develop emotionally, mentally, and physically in a healthy  manner. If you are interested in learning more, please visit 

CITATION:  “Protective Factors Approaches in Child Welfare.” Child Welfare Information Gateway, March 2020.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention: Risk & Protective Factors

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers extensive guidelines and resources on child abuse and neglect and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Embedded in these are ways to identify individual, family, and community risk and protective factors, as well as prevention strategies. As per the CDC, risk factors are those characteristics that may increase the likelihood to experience or perpetuate abuse, neglect and/or ACEs; protective factors are those that lessen the likelihood of experiencing ACEs and/or children being abused or neglected. To learn more about risk and protective factors and to obtain direct access to the resources on prevention strategies, please visit 

CITATION: “Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, April 3, 2020.

Child Welfare Information Gateway: Protective Factors Podcast

Episode 9, Part 1

This podcast features guest speakers from the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) and the Arlington County Children and Family Services who identify the differences between risk and protective factors and how professionals within the welfare system can distinguish these when working with families. Protective factors are defined as characteristics – whether they are at the individual, family or community level – that make positive outcomes more likely. Advocating for a protective factors framework, the guest speakers recommended agencies to focus on the strengths of a family unit and build upon those to better mitigate risk factors when identifying areas of improvement. This action-oriented approach provides staff with a more comprehensive assessment and simultaneously validates the caregiver. Implementing a protective factors framework on the micro and macro levels across communities has reinforced support for families partnering with services such as child welfare, early care and education providers, home visitors, and/or family resource centers. To listen to the podcast and to learn more about distinguishing protective factors from risk factors, please visit 

CITATION: Episode 9: Prevention: Protective Factors – Part 1. Episode 9: Prevention: Protective Factors – Part 1 – Child Welfare Information Gateway. (n.d.).

Child Welfare Information Gateway: Protective Factors Podcast

Episode 10, Part 2

Part two of the podcast took a look at how local agencies implemented protective factors holistically within their agencies. The protective factors framework was implemented because: it is a research informed approach; it is easy for team members to use and understand; the unifying approach aligned well with the agencies’ work; and it works for both the parent and child well-being. The speakers detailed how the framework supported the agencies’ goal of minimizing the families encounters with risky situations and equipping them with tools to navigate the situation. The framework yielded worthwhile responses, as the speakers detailed how the parents gave positive feedback. The protective factors framework did not only benefit the families, but it also benefited the agencies as well, with the speakers reporting a decrease in turnover rates, less burnout for team members, and an improvement on how people viewed their work. To hear more about how local agencies implemented a protective factor framework and its benefits, feel free to listen to part two of the podcast at:

CITATION: Episode 10: Prevention: Protective Factors Part 2. Episode 10: Prevention: Protective Factors Part 2 – Child Welfare Information Gateway. (n.d.).