What Is Family Support? Understanding Services Available To You

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated March 11, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention substance use-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use, contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Support is available 24/7. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Note: This article discusses family services and support in honor of World Breastfeeding Week, an international event for families and parents who are breastfeeding, and Military Family Month, a month dedicated to those with military personnel in the immediate family. 

Whether financially or emotionally, providing for a family can take significant commitment. However, families sometimes lose resources due to causes out of their control. Family support services are available if you are managing financial duress, a person from the family has been called away for military service, or you're struggling with your mental health. Understanding these resources can be the first step in getting connected.

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The importance of family support

Regardless of the source, family support services often aim to help families improve their lives. Support may include child support, energy assistance, health insurance, employment, skills training, counseling services, or military family guidance. With these types of family support available, you do not have to face your challenges alone. 

You may worry that asking for and receiving help is a sign of weakness. However, more than 20% of people in the United States receive family support from federal programs every month. There are more families getting support from independent organizations. Being willing to ask for help is brave and may prevent the escalation of solvable problems. 

Types of family support services 

Numerous programs are available to help families needing support. Some of these programs are solely financial, while others provide services like childcare, healthcare, and counseling services. Other programs offer guidance for military families. 

Family support specialists 

If you work with a family support organization, you might be assigned a family support specialist. These specialists are social workers who can evaluate your family's needs, arrange assistance for you, and provide you with referrals for education and support programs. They may specialize in specific topics, such as domestic violence or child protective services. These individuals work with families that include children, people with disabilities, and older adults. They might also provide counseling. 

Child support and maintenance programs 

After a divorce, many families struggle without child support and maintenance. Each month, these programs may offer extra cash to support the high costs of raising a child. However, getting child support from another parent can be overwhelming for some. 

Programs are in place to help you register your child support claim and locate the other parent from whom you seek support. Each state in the US must have a family support registry to gather childcare payments and disperse them to families with child support orders or maintenance agreements. Talk with a family lawyer for further support if you're experiencing childcare and custody concerns.

Federal family support programs

The US Department of Health and Human Services and the Administration for Children and Families offer several programs designed to support parents, caregivers, and their families, including during National Family Caregivers Month, when the focus is on acknowledging and celebrating the vital contributions of these dedicated individuals. 

These agencies are often considered family support programs to prevent child abuse. Although they do work with child abuse cases, they also offer programs to help parents, caregivers, and families with healthcare, childcare, food needs, child support, housing, and special services for youth with disabilities. 

In addition, they help families identify support through other programs and organizations, including United WayJust In Time Parenting, and the National Parent Helpline.

For families living with substance use challenges, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) can connect individuals with self-help and peer-support groups for substance use disorders. 

Military family support centers

The military has a family support center organization for each branch of the service. These centers' programs provide services and resources designed to meet the unique needs of the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and the Marines, including those whose families have special needs.

Soldier and Family Services (Army)

Soldier and Family Services in the Army program are designed to help service people and their families. This program offers counseling services and support groups for this unique population. They can also find help with relocation, money management, legal assistance, and deployment services there. Family advocacy services offer groups for abuse prevention, parenting support, and help for families and children with special needs.

Furthermore, the Child and Youth Services program of Soldier and Family Services offers various support services, including sports programs, youth education support, before-and-after school programs, daycare, and outreach programs for Army families living on post or in the surrounding community. The Army Morale, Welfare, and Recreation Program offers support and leisure services for these service people and any soldier worldwide.

Fleet and Family Support Program (Navy)

The Fleet and Family Support Program offers three main types of family support services. First, the Core Family Readiness program, also called Work and Family Life, supports the mission directly by helping service people and their families navigate the unique lifestyle that the Navy requires.

Work and Life programs help with physical, interpersonal, emotional, and logistical problems. Some programs address the challenges that occur when the service person is deployed. Others help families make significant life transitions, relocate, or find employment. There is also help with financial management. Finally, the Work and Life program benefits families through emergency preparedness.

The second main program of the Fleet and Family Support Center is the Counseling, Advocacy, and Prevention program. The third program is the Navy Gold Star Program, which is the Navy's program for helping families with long-term non-medical case management and supportive services for surviving families of service people who have died on active duty.

Airman and Family Readiness Center (Air Force)

The Airman and Family Readiness Center (AFRC) provides resources and services geared toward those of the Air Force and their families. They help service people, their spouses, and children prepare for deployment, whether in remote or long temporary duty assignments (TDYs). As part of this, they provide pre- and post-deployment briefings, which are required for airmen and recommended for spouses.

Additionally, the AFRC offers relocation assistance for permanent change of station (PCS) moves. They offer a "newcomer briefing" for incoming airmen and their families and supply them with information on the local area and local services. They also offer employment assistance for airmen and their spouses. Air Force spouses may enjoy volunteering at this family support center to meet new people on their base.

Marine and Family Programs (Marines)

The Marine and Family Programs services offer counseling and support groups for new parents, substance use survivors, sexual assault survivors, and Families Over-Coming Under Stress (FOCUS). They may also offer advocacy for survivors of abuse.

These providers can also help your family navigate local schools if you have children, learn life skills, and advance your career through employment services and educational resources. Finally, there are financial management and retired services offices, with programs including a library and youth sports programs. 

If you are experiencing sexual abuse or have experienced assault, note that the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) has a hotline dedicated to supporting individuals experiencing sexual assault, harassment, or intimate partner violence. You can contact them anytime by calling 800-656-HOPE (4673) or using the online chat.

Strategies for coping through challenging moments 

When you are trying to make ends meet or solve your family's challenges, it can be overwhelming. Below are a few strategies you can use alongside support options to cope with significant life changes. 

Journal

According to studies, expressive writing practices, like journaling, can offer mental clarity and well-being. Journaling can also serve as a reminder of the steps you have taken to move forward or as a record of how you coped with a significant problem, so you can make improvements in the future.

Make a plan

At times, problem-solving may offer a sense of clarity and confidence. Make a list and identify steps you can take to address the most significant challenges for your family. Breaking the situation down into actionable steps can make it seem less overwhelming. 

Expand your support network

Meet others in your community or nearby communities with common interests or who live in similar situations. You can join a support group, attend meetings at a family support center, or attend family classes together, like family yoga. 

Ask for help

If you've put on a brave face to other family and friends, they might not know you're struggling. Asking for help when needed can help you gain perspective and build stronger relationships with others. Even if people cannot support you financially, they may be able to offer advice and emotional support. 

Practice gratitude

Actively taking the time to reflect on what you are grateful for can help you feel more optimistic and give you a new approach to tackling the situation at hand. Practicing gratitude regularly may also reduce aggression and improve self-esteem, sleep quality, and health.

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Talk to a professional 

While your loved ones may offer valuable insight, speaking to a professional can allow you to receive resources, professional guidance, and long-term coping mechanisms. Feeling unsure or hesitant to reach out to a counselor for the first time can be normal. To start, you can try an online platform like BetterHelp, which offers availability to a match-based system with a growing database of specialized counselors and therapists. 

Research shows that online therapy can be a powerful tool in improving people's lives. For example, one study found that people who used an online platform experienced a significant decrease in the severity of their depression symptoms. Another study found that online therapy effectively reduced long-term stress patterns within family environments. 

Through an online platform, you can contact your counselor wherever it is convenient, communicating via phone, video, messages, or chat. In addition, you can ask for a specialist with experience in mental health related to family matters.

Counselor reviews

“Ava was a great help to me. She supported me through a transition period in my life and also helped me work through some issues that I have been facing with a parent. She is very frank but also listens and reads with a keen and empathetic ear. I appreciated having a counselor of similar racial and ethnic background to me as she had insight into the particulars of my family dynamics and past experiences. I am happy with my experience with her.”

“Ms. Pamela is a kind and genuine active listener. She has provided activities and worksheets that have helped my family and me tremendously with our daily lives. We are so grateful for the help. I look forward to my sessions with Pamela every week!”

Takeaway

Family support services are services dedicated to helping families get out of challenging life situations. Consider the above resources whether you're in the military, a working single parent, or a family trying to get by. You can also contact a therapist anytime for further support and guidance.

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