Family and Social Support

Definition

Family and social support is defined as the assistance available to individuals and groups from within communities that can provide a buffer against adverse life events and living conditions. This support can provide a positive resource for enhancing the quality of life and health. 

Healthy social and emotional development in the early years lays a foundation for overall health, well-being, and success in school and life. Individuals’ social support networks are formed from relationships with family, friends, coworkers, neighbors and acquaintances. Evidence shows that higher levels of social support are connected to positive physical and mental health outcomes for an individual (1). As social creatures, people depend on high levels of social connectedness, or the level at which a person interacts with friends, family and neighbors around them, for both support and survival. Enhanced social support can help buffer an individual against the health-damaging effects of stress by reducing negative emotional and behavioral responses to stressful situations.

Other potential beneficial effects of social relationships include larger social networks, which provide more avenues for and greater access to employment and housing. They also provide the potential for peers to positively influence behaviors such as smoking, exercise and alcohol use (1). Additionally, an individual experiencing social isolation and decreased social support is more likely to have an increased risk for poor health outcomes, with one analysis finding that poor social relationships were associated with a 29 percent increased risk of coronary heart disease and a 32 percent increased risk of stroke (2).

Beyond personal and family connections, the neighborhoods and the conditions in which we live play a significant role in increasing social support among residents. Strong ties and trust among neighbors are linked to better health (3). We can explain the importance of the relationships between our neighbors and other segments of the community through a concept called social capital. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, social capital is “the fabric of a community, the community pool of resources and the individual and communal time and energy that is available for things like community improvement, social networking, civic engagement and other activities that create social bonds between individuals and groups” (4). Circumstances in a community that prevent or limit the availability of social capital can have a negative effect on the health and well-being of residents of that area. Studies examining all causes of mortality have found that individuals who lack social connections have 2-3 times the risk of dying compared to individuals with stronger connections (5).

Forming strong bonds with our family, friends and neighbors is integral to finding effective support in our lives. These bonds become a source of self-esteem and mutual respect, which enables us to come together to overcome adversity in our communities and in our personal lives. Social connections are also one of five protective factors that help parents buffer stress and raise healthier children.  The other four protective factors are: parental resilience, concrete support in times of need, knowledge of parenting and child development, and social and emotional competence of children.  Research shows that well established protective factors in families reduce the likelihood of child abuse and neglect and promote healthy attachment. Additionally, social connections offer opportunities for parents to share advice and support, which are key to effective problem solving and positive self-esteem (6).   

Implications and Data for Jefferson County

Community Health Needs Assessment Focus Group Findings

Across focus groups, participants noted the importance of strong family and social connections to their health and support system. Many participants expressed that a healthy community is one where individuals are not just thinking of themselves, but also of the needs of those around them. A unique difference between the focus groups held in mountain communities and the more urban areas was the emphasis on social networks. While participants in Indian Hills and Conifer placed more emphasis on the importance of social networks in the makeup of a healthy community, those from the urban communities placed more emphasis on geographic boundaries.

Aging and other older adult issues were a recurring theme in the discussions, with many residents across groups voicing concerns about issues such as aging-in-place, social isolation and access to transportation for medical care and other basic needs. Participants in the focus groups held in the mountain communities of Jefferson County indicated that older adults are moving out of their communities to be closer to the services they need, which are often located in urban areas. One person stated that there is “gross negligence” when it comes to supporting the community’s aging population. Another person noted that “there is a lot of pride in mountain communities,” which can often act as a barrier for older adults who need help to reach out.

In the urban communities, participants were interested in learning about available resources in the community for older adults and their caregivers, who often need outside support. One participant worried about her ability to care for both herself and her spouse and acknowledged the importance of caretakers both having support and knowing how to access it.

Community Health Needs Assessment Key Informant Findings 

Key informants expressed multiple concerns about the older adult population in the county. These concerns are described below. Social isolation and the ability to age in place were discussed often, with particular concern for older adults in the mountain communities.

1. Some key informants raised concerns about the capacity of organizations to provide non-emergency medical transport, such as to and from doctor’s appointments. Other transportation for older adults, such as to and from a grocery store, was also a common concern.

2. Caregiver support, such as information on support groups and resources available to caregivers was another concern for key informants who work with older adults. They were worried about caregivers’ ability to access support to manage the stress of caregiving.

3. Key informants voiced concerns around end-of-life issues and information on care options. The ability to age in place, versus in assisted living or retirement homes, was mentioned as a concern by some key informants

4. Finally, key informants stressed the importance of both accessing vital medical services in a timely manner as well as the need for more primary care providers that accept Medicaid and Medicare.  

Communities That Care Youth Focus Groups

During the Communities That Care focus groups, youth discussed how parents and other adults often do not understand the kinds of issues that youth face today. The issues of generational gaps between youth and adults and negative consequences when youth reach out for help were two major discussion points across the focus groups. Many youth believed that adults view teenagers' lives as easier than they actually are, and that they do not understand all of the competing responsibilities that modern youth must balance. In addition, some youth described reaching out for help was met with inaction or apathy from adults. Other youth described how reaching out for help led to further negative consequences for them instead of appropriate solutions.

The youth identified three needs related to their experiences with adults that would improve their relationships. These needs were:

1. Having people to count on, including parents, teachers, and friends.

"It’s important that [parents are] like anchors and they’re always there."

"A lot of my friends [have a teacher they can go to], but I think a lot of people in our school don’t."

2. The opportunity to talk about difficult issues, including substance use, violence, and feelings of hopelessness and anxiety.

"Talk about it more in the open, rather than like having it always as a private conversation. Or, just put it out there, we all kind of like go through it. Cuz unless you have personally asked somebody, you don’t really realize that. It’s more common than you think it is."

"Talk about it more. Mental illness and stuff. It’s not always about physical damage. Mental damage matters too. People are so quick to... throw it under the rug, and I don’t think it should be that way because a lot of people are affected by it. [They] need to be shown that it matters."

3. Understanding the root causes of their behaviors. They expressed the desire for adults to be more understanding of what they are going through before dishing out punishment. For some youth, this caused them to be reluctant to go to adults with problems because they were afraid of being punished.

"Some person who never had that experience might look at them and judge them, or be like ‘wow, you did something really horrible. Why would you ever do that?’ But if every single event that happened to them happened to you, then you would make the same decisions. And that’s how I put other people’s lives into perspective even if I don’t agree with what they’re doing. It’s just I kinda think if I was them, and everything that happened to them happened to me, I would probably do the same thing."

Single parents can struggle with obtaining the social and emotional support that they and their children need. Here are just a few of the stresses that single parents encounter:

• financially supporting one’s family
• physical and emotional fatigue due to commitments at work and home
• lack of time for personal pursuits
• feelings of being overwhelmed with the responsibilities of raising a child
• challenges related to childcare
• complications with the relationship/involvement of the other parent
• changes in children’s behavior.

These difficulties can have negative outcomes for both the parent and their children (7).

In Jefferson County about 23.5 percent of households with children under the age of 18 are single parents households. This percent has been declining and is less than the Colorado and United States average.

The percent of high school students that consider schoolwork as meaningful, is an important measure of school connectedness. Students who feel connected to their school are more likely to have healthier outcomes and achieve better academic success. The Healthy People 2020 goal for this measure is 29% and between 2012-2015 only 25% of Colorado high school students thought their schoolwork was meaningful (8).

Percent of adults reporting that they lack adequate social and emotional support (2010)

Percent of high school students receiving support, by selected topics, Colorado (2015)

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Reference List


1. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. (2011). Education and Health [Issue brief]. Retrieved from: https://www.rwjf.org/content/dam/farm/reports/issue_briefs/2011/rwjf70447

2. Valtorta NK, Kanaan M, Gilbody S, et al. (2016) Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for coronary heart disease and stroke: systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal observational studies. Heart Published Online First. doi: 10.1136/heartjnl-2015-308790

3. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. (2011, May). Neighborhoods and Health [Issue brief]. Retrieved from: https://www.rwjf.org/content/dam/farm/reports/issue_briefs/2011/rwjf70450

4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2009, October). Social Capital. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/healthyplaces/healthtopics/social.htm

5. Kawachi, I., Kennedy, B., Glass, R. (1999). Social Capital and Self-Rated Health: A contextual analysis. American Journal of Public Health, 89 (8), 1-7. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1508687/

6. Center for the Study of Social Policy’s. (2018). The Protective Factors Framework [Fact sheet]. Retrieved from: https://www.cssp.org/reform/strengthening-families/basic-one-pagers/Strengthening-Families-Protective-Factors.pdf 

7. American Academy of Pediatrics. (2015). Stresses of single parenting. Retrieved from: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/family-dynamics/types-of-families/pages/Stresses-of-Single-Parenting.aspx

8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2009). School Connectedness: Strategies for Increasing Protective Factors Among Youth. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/protective/pdf/connectedness.pdf

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Data Sources


US Census, ACS: American Community Survey - American Factfinder (Table: B09005): https://www.census.gov

SAMHSA NSDUH: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association - National Survey on Drug Use and Health: https://www.samhsa.gov/data/data-we-collect/nsduh-national-survey-drug-use-and-health

2010 BRFSS via CHR 2014: Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey via County Health Rankings: http://www.countyhealthrankings.org/

HKCS: Healthy Kids Colorado Survey: https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdphe/hkcs

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Published on July 17, 2018

Updated on January 28, 2020