• What is family policy?
  • Family policy has been defined explicitly as an end goal. Family policy encompasses five explicit functions of families: (a) family formation (e.g., to marry or divorce, to bear or adopt children, to provide foster care); (b) partner relationships (e.g., to strengthen commitment and stability); (c) economic support (e.g., to provide for members’ basic needs); (d) childrearing (e.g., to socialize the next generation); and (e) caregiving (e.g., to provide assistance for the disabled, frail, ill, and elderly). Family policies address issues such as child care, child support, divorce, family violence, juvenile crime, long-term care, and teenage pregnancy. Tax provisions that create a child care tax credit would be considered family policy. However, a tax reform law that lowers taxes for individuals, many of whom happen to live in families, would not be considered family policy. The State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) would be considered family policy. However a universal health care program would not be considered family policy, because it targets individuals, irrespective of whether or not they live in a family setting.
  • What is a family impact lens in policymaking?
  • The family impact lens in policy is a companion term that acknowledges the implicit yet often critical role family considerations play in a broad range of policies by analyzing (a) what the consequences are of any policy or program on family well-being (e.g., prison policy, social security reform), (b) how families are used as a means to accomplish other policy ends (e.g., workplace policies that promote employee productivity by providing child care for sick children), or (c) when families act as administrators of public policy by determining eligibility and distributing benefits to members (e.g., survivor benefits, eligibility for immigration, application procedures for the Earned Income Tax Credit, etc.). The family impact lens in policy or program decisions focuses on what policies or programs are enacted. The family impact lens in practice focuses on how policies or programs are implemented through family-centered supports or services.
  • Why do we need a family impact lens in policymaking?
  • Most policymakers would not think of passing a bill without asking, “What’s the economic impact?” The Policy Institute for Family Impact Seminars encourages policymakers to ask, “What is the impact of this policy on families?” “Would involving families result in more effective and efficient policies?”Historically, an individualistic perspective has pervaded American society. Most policymaking focuses on the effects and outcomes for individuals—children, youth, women, veterans, the elderly, and the poor—and ignores the effects on families. Over the last twenty-five years there have been a number of attempts to encourage a family impact lens in policymaking. Despite these attempts, there has been no sustained effort to analyze policy from the family impact lens and few groups consistently represent family interests.Yet supporting families, who in turn support their members, may result in policies that are more effective and efficient. Ample evidence exists that policies that support families are more effective than those that focus on individuals. For example, family-centered policies have proven more effective than individual approaches in enhancing academic achievement, promoting positive youth development, and preventing violence, delinquency and disease.Families efficiently perform several important functions for their members and society. Families bear and rear the next generation, economically support their members, and care for the elderly, sick and the disabled in ways that no other institution can do or do as well. Government cannot afford to replace the functions served by families, so family-focused policies can end up saving government money in the long run.

    Finally, a family impact lens can benefit policymaking in another way—by bringing to policymaking an essential quality that is first learned in families, commitment to others. Families teach the responsibility that individuals have to each other, even when it exacts a personal cost. Applying this perspective to policy decisions has the potential to counter the narrow, self-serving agendas of many lobbyists and special interests. This family impact lens can help craft a policy agenda that recognizes the connectedness of individuals to one another and assumes responsibility for the common good.

  • What is a family impact analysis?
  • A family impact analysis examines the past, present or probable future consequences, both intended and unintended, of a policy, program or service on family well-being. Whereas evaluation research focuses on whether the goals of a program are being met, family impact analysis examines how program goals or proposed legislation may benefit families or produce unintended, negative consequences. The Consortium of Family Organizations (COFO) developed a family impact checklist, which was later adapted by the Policy Institute for Family Impact Seminars. The checklist includes six basic principles and accompanying family impact questions that serve as the criteria of how sensitive to and supportive of families policies and programs are. In addition, seven other family impact checklists are available for assessing family friendliness in areas such as family/school partnerships, early childhood care and education, and adolescent treatment programs.
  • What are Family Impact Seminars?
  • The Family Impact Seminars—a series of presentations, discussion sessions, and briefing reports—provide state policymakers with nonpartisan, solution-oriented research on family issues such as children’s health insurance, early childhood care and education, juvenile crime, long-term care, and welfare reform. The Family Impact Seminars were created to increase the use of research in policy decisions and to encourage policymakers to consider the family impact of policies and programs.The Seminars target state policymakers, including legislators, legislative aides, governor’s office staff, legislative service agency staff, and agency representatives. The traditional format of the 2-hour seminars consist of two or three presentations given by a panel of premier researchers, program directors, and policy analysts. The presentations and discussion sessions that follow provide a neutral, nonpartisan setting outside the political environment for policymakers to discuss issues and seek common ground. Each Seminar is accompanied by a briefing report that summarizes high-quality research on the topic and draws implications for policy.
  • What makes the Family Impact Seminars unique?
  • The Seminars have succeeded where others have failed due to several pragmatic practices and procedures. The value of each innovation is illustrated in state policymakers’ own words.

    OBJECTIVE INFORMATION:
    Rather than bringing in speakers to lobby for particular policies, the Seminars feature premier researchers, policy analysts, and program directors presenting nonpartisan, state-of-the-art information on a range of policy options.

    The ability to present and prepare unbiased research based on objective analysis and without political taint is truly refreshing. (Legislator, Party Unknown)
    EASY ACCESS TO RELEVANT INFORMATION:
    The Seminars have a three-step planning process that assesses state problems, policy solutions, and political feasibility to ensure that seminar content is aligned with a pressing policy issue.

    Prescription drugs was an excellent seminar…because we dealt with it shortly afterward and we tailored some of our legislation in that area. (Republican legislator)

    The reason that I go to the Family Impact Seminars is that they bring in speakers that we normally never get to hear from at the Capitol. (Republican legislator)
    NEUTRAL, NONPARTISAN SETTING:
    The Seminars provide a neutral setting outside the political environment for policymakers to discuss issues and seek common ground.

    This is the only time such a broad group gets together to really discuss family-related issues in an atmosphere that encourages good public policymaking over politics. (Agency section chief)

    Because of the Family Impact Seminars, we are able to engage in discussions on a policy as opposed to an ideological level, and I think that we have been able to discuss the issues in a more responsible way and actually come to more responsible conclusions as a result. (Democratic legislator)
    FAMILY IMPACT PERSPECTIVE:
    Because most Americans (91%) report that their family is extremely important to them, we encourage policymakers to examine the effects of policies on families. The Seminars emphasize the benefits of acknowledging and taking into account the role of the family, rather than the individual, in addressing policy issues.

    The Seminars have been very effective in helping people deal with issues as they relate to families. (Republican legislator)

  • Do Family Impact Seminars work?
  • The Family Impact Seminars are difficult to evaluate for a couple reasons. First, policy decisions are driven by a number of influences including ideology, political advantage, and special interests. Research, in and of itself, is seldom comprehensive and definitive enough to serve as the sole determinant of a policy decision. Second, the approach used by the Family Impact Seminars is policy education rather than advocacy. This means that the Seminars present a range of policy options, rather than a single “best” policy solution, which would be much easier to track. Despite these challenges, we have some evidence that the Family Impact Seminars are effective given their track record in:

    Attracting state policymakers. Since 1993, 28 states have conducted over 190 seminars for state policymakers. The California Seminars have been attended by between 125 and 200 participants. A recent Wisconsin Seminar attracted 110 participants including 28 legislators and 35 legislative aides.

    Increasing participant knowledge on the seminar topic and how it affects families. Policymakers attending a Michigan Seminar on Medicaid reported statistically significant increases in knowledge after the Seminar on each of six evaluation items. These knowledge changes are consistent across states and topics.

    Providing information that policymakers use. In phone interviews of legislators from one long-time Family Impact Seminar state, 100% of legislators reported using Seminar information to evaluate pending legislation, 81% to incorporate into speeches, 73% to identify references for further information, 64% to share with colleagues, 27% to contact researchers with questions, and 18% to draft new legislation (Bogenschneider, 2006).

    Changing legislators’ attitudes. Because of the Family Impact Seminars, legislators from one state report being “quite a bit” more likely to consider how new legislation they are developing affects families (73%), to see the practical value of research (73%), and to consider how new legislation that they are developing might affect families (60%).

    Shaping research-based state policy. In California, a series on teenage pregnancy prevention resulted in increased funding and a new state program within the Department of Health Services. Following a seminar in Nebraska on ways to support low-income families, the state passed an earned income tax credit. Following a New Mexico seminar on child abuse and neglect, the Department of Children, Youth, and Families was asked to assess the state’s domestic violence programs, identify emerging best practices around the country, and make recommendations to the legislature. In Indiana, after a middle school violence seminar, the legislature passed a law requiring public schools to have a safety specialist. In Wisconsin, several features of other states’ prescription drug programs that were presented at the Seminars were incorporated into the state’s prescription drug law. After a Washington DC seminar on food security, one attendee organized a coalition on food security for the District that is still active.

    Is transferable. The Seminars are a promising model for turning good research into policy. The Policy Institute for Family Impact Seminars at the University of Wisconsin-Madison/Extension is disseminating the Seminar model to other states. No other known nonpartisan organization is building a state-by-state infrastructure to provide research to state policymakers on family issues.

  • What do participants say about Family Impact Seminars?
  • “The ability to present and prepare unbiased research based on objective analysis and without political taint is truly refreshing.” Wisconsin State Legislator

    “(The seminar) expanded my knowledge and interest of what is occurring in other states.” Illinois State Agency Representative

    “I like the seminars because they are a fast way to learn.” Wisconsin State Legislator

    “Right amount of information presented by knowledgeable people. Neutral presenters not trying to sell a product…Very well done.” North Carolina Governor’s Office Advisor

    “(The Family Impact Seminars are) doing a great job focusing on issues and programs that positively affect policy.” Michigan Legislative Aide

    “Short, information-packed seminars” Wisconsin Legislative Aide

    “The Family Impact Seminars are something we make time for….this is the only time such a broad group gets together to really discuss family-related issues in an atmosphere that encourages good public policymaking over politics.” Wisconsin State Agency Section Chief

    “I thought the seminar was fantastic…We are so immersed in the legislative session that we rarely can examine the issues on a pure policy basis because partisan politics does overshadow much of our work.” Minnesota State Legislator

  • When did the Seminars start?
  • Family Impact Seminars began as a series of two-hour briefings on Capitol Hill for staff of Congressional offices, federal agencies, and policy organizations. Between 1988 and 1998, Theodora Ooms and her staff conducted 42 seminars on a wide range of family policy issues. In 1999, the federal seminars were ended and attention was redirected to building a network of state Family Impact Seminar sites. At that time, California, Washington DC, and Wisconsin were the only sites conducting Family Impact Seminars. The long-standing mission of the Family Impact Seminar to build the capacity for family-centered policymaking was assumed by the newly-formed Policy Institute for Family Impact Seminars at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Since then, many new states have joined the Family Impact Seminar network.
  • Which states are conducting Family Impact Seminars?
  • Family Impact Seminars are currently being conducted or planned in Arizona, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin, Utah, and Virginia.
  • What issues have been covered?
    • Child Abuse and Exploitation/Family, School, and Community Violence (11)
    • Child Care and Early Education/After School Programs (13)
    • Families and K-12 Education/Dropout Prevention (24)
    • Child and Family Health (35)
    • Family Poverty (22)
    • Foster Care/Family Services/Military Families (16)
    • Juvenile Crime/Corrections Policy (17)
    • Strengthening Families/Parenting (13)
    • Teen Pregnancy (9)
    • Aging and Long-Term Care (9)
    • Family Economic Security/Jobs/State Economic Growth (21)
  • Who conducts the Seminars?
  • The Family Impact Seminars are most commonly sponsored by universities and the Cooperative Extension Service, but other sponsors include a state library and a state consortium of universities and family-serving organizations. At universities, the seminars are housed in the Cooperative Extension Service, family studies departments, family or policy institutes, or public policy schools. Each sponsor secures funding to support the seminars from sources such as private foundations, state government, universities, and family-serving organizations. The host institution often provides seed money and administrative support, as well as in-kind contributions of the time of the Seminar director(s) and staff or graduate students.
  • How can my organization apply to be a Family Impact Seminar state site?
  • If you are interested in launching the Family Impact Seminars in your state, please contact Jacquelyn Thomas-Miller at the Family Impact Institute.