Family-Centered Coaching

Holistic Coaching: Keeping Families at the Center


“The beauty of [family-centered] coaching is that it can be ongoing or a one-time deal depending on the family’s goals and the place that they are in their life.” – Taneka Thomas, Goodwill Industries of Central Michigan’s Heartland.

Ascend recently co-hosted a webinar with The Prosperity Agenda on Family-Centered Coaching (FCC), a coaching model that provides a holistic approach to working with families. FCC provides a set of strategies, tools, and resources that can help programs, agencies, case managers, coaches, and others support families as they strive to reach their goals. Speakers on the webinar include:

  • Rachel Brooks, Program Director, The Prosperity Agenda
  • Paula Sammons, Program Officer, Family Economic Security, W.K. Kellogg Foundation
  • Devin Stubblefield, Consulting Trainer, The Prosperity Agenda
  • Taneka Thomas, Workforce Development Specialist, Goodwill Industries of Central Michigan’s Heartland
  • Sarah Haight, Assistant Director for Network & Outreach, Ascend at the Aspen Institute

Check out the webinar recording on our GoTo channel here; learn about the toolkit that The Prosperity Agenda is mobilizing for organizations and families, and hear about strategies and ways to embed this model in your own two-generational efforts.

Read on for a Q&A with the speakers, covering topics like: identifying big goals, working with refugee and ESL families, and supporting hard-to-reach families. If you have questions about FCC, please contact Rachel Brooks at The Prosperity Agenda at rachelb@theprosperityagenda.com.

Any suggestions for cultivating curiosity in staff who might be entrenched in “fixing” families?

  • Devin: Staff who are prone to fixing families will find that the Family-Centered Coaching approach will help them to maintain their own bandwidth and energy to best support families. The question to pose to the fixer is: What’s most important for the family and how can you transfer your tendency to execute for them into a process that engages and partners with families to do it themselves?
  • Devin: Another possibility is to encourage the staff to consider scaffolding with the families. This is the process of doing things with the family and not for the family–providing support as they learn new skills. This can also include providing in-context learning so that the family develops the skills and motivation to complete tasks without the coach.
  • Taneka: One way that can help is by revisiting the mission of the organization. How does your job link to the mission? Do you have an individual mission that aligns with the organization? Do you need to create one? We might see the problem before we see the client, so we tend to coach the problem and not the client and that puts us into fix-it mode.
  • Taneka: It helps when we are able to identify an individual mission for why we do what we do so that we are clear on our purpose and the outcomes that we want for our families. It’s like you’re developing your coaching stand: What is it that you want to bring to the family? How are you going to show up? What outcomes are you hoping for while working with families? When we are able to recognize our own personal missions for the service we provide and outcomes that we want for our families, we can see coaching as a way to truly be able to serve the families that we work with.

How do you support working with ESL and refugee families? How might one support families who are new to the US?

  • Devin: I would suggest starting with the Wheel of Life. During the conversation, the coach can raise awareness about the wheel’s domains and that can provide context for the process of acclimating to daily life in the US. This discussion can also help families think through and prioritize their desired lives in the US.
  • Taneka: The tools can help with limited language barriers because they’re clearly written out. The tools can further help you gain better understanding of what parents are trying to communicate and provide clarifying questions to ask. For parents in a new environment, the My Hopes and Dreams tool can help establish clear goals. As the coach, if you are clear on the family’s goal, you can help them identify what steps to take to move forward. Similarly, the Plan Do and Review tool works well to give the family something concrete to refer to if they get confused or stuck due to cultural differences or language barriers. 

How do you support families who might be hard to reach and overwhelmed? What is the timing through which you do your coaching (how long is the coaching approach for, how do you set up sessions, etc.)?

  • Devin: Using the Stages of Change table and the Approach Wheel, the coach can facilitate a discussion that engages the family to provide input on which approach is most appropriate for them at that time. There is no set timing on how long the duration of coaching should be. It is determined by the needs of the family and their progress towards the goals they have set and committed to. Sessions are set up based on the timing and accessibility of the families. Planning coaching sessions that are convenient for them will decrease the potential for cancellations and help keep the family in action.
  • Taneka: Supporting families who are hard to reach can be challenging, especially families that may have a number of issues that continuously change. I had a family that in just one session were able to establish next steps and set the next meeting for the following day. Long story short, they did not show up the next day and I did not hear from them for about a month. I reached out to them on Facebook because the number I had was not working. They responded and explained to me the challenges that came up within a couple days. I was able to coach them through social media and through that they found a way to return.
  • Taneka: It also helps to use the Wheel of Life to determine session topics and provide coaches with talking points. This also works well if the family doesn’t have an agenda in mind. The family determines the agenda or topic for the session and they also establish the time and day. It is helpful to have them determine the next session at the end of each session. As far as the time frame for the coaching approach, I really leave that up to the client. I have clients that I see regularly and I have some that call me on an as-needed basis. Both are fine, especially since we want to engage families and that approach leaves room for less case management and more coaching. The beauty of coaching is that it can be ongoing or a one-time deal depending on the family’s goals and the place that they are in their life. 

What types of big goals can families identify and work toward through this model?

  • Devin: All goals big or otherwise are determined by the families. The goal can be anything. The work of the coach is to support and to guide the process of developing a specific plan to reach goal milestones that are broken down into a series of smaller steps that are actually doable for the family.
  • Taneka: This model works well with any goal, whether big or small. The coach is there as a support to help explore possibilities, hold space for awareness, and create a vision. Through this, the goal is no longer a problem but a real possibility.

 How does FCC compare to other programs that might be in the certification field?

  • Rachel: Family-Centered Coaching is an approach that builds on the skills of coaching and other family-centered approaches. The tools put the family at the center by expanding how organizations focus on individuals and families together and offer services in collaboration with other organizations to meet the full range of families’ needs. 

How it FCC being evaluated?

  • Rachel: Family-Centered Coaching was developed by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in partnership with the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, who together engaged the field through a 9-member advisory committee and over 20 content experts from varied fields. Over 50 coaches were trained in the FCC approach and provided feedback on its practice in two-generation programs. The Prosperity Agenda is further evaluating FCC in specific non-profit and government environments.

How is this different from motivational interviewing?

  • Rachel: Family-Centered Coaching encourages a fluidity of approaches that includes Motivational Interviewing (also referred to as Readiness Assessment in FCC). Motivational Interviewing can precede the goal-setting stage and enable the coach to enter into a learning conversation with a parent and identify the source of ambivalence without passing judgement. A parent’s inaction may be due to external forces, such as institutionalized racism or other cultural or systemic bias. When a parent is ready to make changes, they are then likely ready for a set of coaching conversations using goal-setting In this stage, a coach partners with a parent to identify and take steps to reach results that support family well-being. The parent sets the agenda and the coach guides the process.

How much would it cost to be trained in this approach?

  • Rachel: The Family-Centered Coaching toolkit and other materials are available free to use and adapt. You can view and download the materials at familycenteredcoaching.org. The Prosperity Agenda offers technical assistance and training in both the core competency of coaching, and the FCC tools. TPA is also working with other training providers and internal training department to build capacity to train others in FCC. The cost of training depends on the training needs, number of participants, and location. For more information on training, technical assistance, or organizational development centered on FCC, contact Rachel Brooks at rachelb@theprosperityagenda.org.