The Minnesota Family Strength Project
October 20, 1997
Releases Study of 2,000 Minnesota Families
What Makes Minnesota Families Strong?
What Makes This Study Unique?
About the Partners
MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (October 20, 1997) - Seventy-eight percent of Minnesotans say their families are "very
strong" or "exceptionally strong," and Minnesotans
consistently rate their current families as stronger than the
families in which they grew up, according to a study released
today from the Minnesota Family Strength Project. The respondents'
age, number of years married, cultural/ethnic background, or religious
preference had no significant bearing on whether families considered
"The study tells us that if we're out there talking about
how to save deteriorating families, people aren't likely to listen
- because most of us see our own families as strong," said
Terry Steeno, president and CEO, Family and Children's Service,
which commissioned the research. "Instead of looking at
what's wrong with families, this study tells us what's working
in families, so we can learn from each other to build on family
Researchers from the Minnesota Family Strength Project
talked to more than 2,000 families of all colors, shapes, and sizes
from throughout Minnesota to find out what makes them strong.
The project is a unique collaboration of Family & Children's
Service, the Allina Foundation, the Minnesota Historical Society
and Minnesota Public Radio.
The release of the research results coincides with:
distribution of a 36-page special section in the November issue
of Minnesota Monthly magazine, called "Families Talk,
Families Listen," including a pull-out section to enter information
on your family into the Minnesota History Center archives; the
"Picture Ourselves Family" festival at the Minnesota
History Center's "Families" exhibit; and Minnesota Family
Strength Month, proclaimed by Gov. Carlson in November.
A free booklet with strength-building tips from
Minnesota families is available by calling, toll free, 1-888-719-8097.
What Makes Minnesota Families Strong?
The Minnesota Family Strength Project let families
define what they consider to be "their family." Across
the entire study, families who rate themselves strong had a broader
definition of family. On average, they mention almost twice as
many members as less strong families. Four times as many Minnesotans
defined their families as large (22 members or more) than as "just
myself." And families included pets as often as friends
in their definition of family.
Five themes emerged from the research as the elements
most central to family strength:
Health (physical, mental and economic)
Time spent together
Spirituality (important to many families whether
or not they attend organized worship services)
Support (physical and emotional)
The top stresses reported by families were: no
chance to unwind, uncompleted chores by children, and arguments between
parents and children.
"This is consistent with past research that
tells us it is not so much the crises that tear families apart
- it's the grind of day-to-day hassles," said Judy Watson
Tiesel, Ph. D., family social scientist and designer of the research.
"It shows us we need to get better at helping people cope
with daily stresses, instead of waiting for a big crisis."
Strong Families are Healthy Families
The research clearly reveals a connection between
family strength and health. "This project draws us beyond
the ordinary bounds of health care by focusing on strengths, not
weaknesses, where our diagnosis usually begins," said Mike
Christenson, executive director, the Allina Foundation.
And where do families turn when they need help?
The top resource mentioned by Minnesota families was prayer.
"Spirit, healing and family strength are related concepts.
The health system needs to continue to improve supports for those
relationships," Christenson said.
What Makes this Study Unique?
Many of the findings from this research are consistent
with conclusions drawn from other family studies, according to David
Olson, Ph.D., professor of Family Social Science at the University
of Minnesota and consulting researcher on the project. "But
this project adds to our knowledge in important ways," he
said. "Most research projects study problems or weaknesses. The Minnesota Family Strength Project studied strengths
- what families do well. Families will find building on their existing
strengths more constructive than trying to eliminate a problem
or a weakness."
Another important difference, Tiesel said, is that
the research methodology went beyond standard quantitative data
from a random sample of the population to also employ new techniques
of culturally sensitive information-gathering from various ethnic
groups. These interactive group meetings revealed more about
the distinctive experiences of families of ethnic minorities.
American Indian families talked about the importance
of their connection to ancestors as a source of family strength. Chicano/Latino
families talked about the importance of balance between their
traditional culture and adapting to Minnesota. Many felt that
being bilingual was central to keeping their families together.
For recently immigrated Somalis, the need to get all their family
members in one geographic location overshadowed all other elements
of building family strength.
The five themes that emerged in the general population
of Minnesotans - communication, health, time together, spirituality
and support - proved consistently important across all ethnic
groups and family structures. Among African American, American
Indian, Chicano/Latino, Somali and Vietnamese families interviewed,
four additional themes emerged. These were repeatedly described
as important to the families' experiences as minority cultures.
Extended sense of family.
Based on the research, the Minnesota Family Strength
Project is now engaged in designing and implementing strategies
that will help families and organizations use this information
to build family strengths, and is encouraging others to follow
suit. Initiatives include:
A Cultural Family Dinner program,
through the Phillips/Powderhorn Cultural Wellness Center, encouraging
families from a variety of cultures to break bread and share ideas.
Convening spiritual leaders,
in partnership with Search Institute and other youth, family and
community initiatives, to discuss how places of worship can help
families, communities and young people build on their strengths.
A partnership with ethnic communities
involved in the research to continue the dialogue and support
efforts to build family strengths within the context of their
Systems change. Allina
Health Systems and Family and Children's Service are exploring
new ways to build on family strengths and to take advantage of
family strengths in mental and physical health-related prevention
Share research findings
with businesses, policy-makers, places of worship, schools, neighborhood
groups, etc. to facilitate a discussion of what they can do to
build on family strengths.
"We have a tremendous opportunity to share
what we've learned with families, policy makers, community leaders
and family serving agencies," Steeno said. "The strength
of individuals, families and communities is interconnected - and
each of us can contribute to that strength. If we work together,
we can build a better way to support families and communities
as we approach the 21st century."
About the Partners
The Allina Foundation
promotes innovation that engages citizens and changes systems
to improve the health of individuals and communities. The Minnesota
Family Strength Project engages families to inform the health
system about innovative ways to strengthen families and improve
The Minnesota Family Strength Project is a direct
extension of the mission of Family and Children's Service. Through this initiative, families in all their various forms will build on their strengths by sharing and learning from experts and from other families. Family and Children's Service will
also share these results with policy makers, community leaders
and family serving agencies to help find new and better ways to
support families and communities.
The Minnesota Historical Society
preserves and shares the story of Minnesota's past through its
collections, exhibits, publications and public programs at the
Minnesota History Center and 24 historic sites throughout Minnesota.
The History Center's "Families" exhibit focuses on
the diverse experiences of past and present Minnesota families
and provides a broad historical context for the findings of the
Minnesota Family Strength Project.
Minnesota Public Radio Civic Journalism Initiative seeks to amplify citizens' points
of view on important issues - like family strength - to be a catalyst
for positive community change. Interest in the Minnesota Family
Strength Project grew from its findings in previous projects where
the family emerged as the key to strengthening communities.