Family Spirit was designed, implemented, and evaluated by the Johns Hopkins University Center for American Indian Health in partnership with the Navajo, White Mountain Apache, and San Carlos Apache tribal communities. The Family Spirit national office at the Johns Hopkins University Center for American Indian Health administers the model and provides implementation support. Locally, community agencies known as affiliates provide personnel support for implementing the model.
Implementing Family Spirit®
Last updated: April 2018
The Family Spirit conceptual framework is based on G. R. Patterson’s model that posits parenting as the critical link between parents’ personal characteristics and environmental context and children’s individual risks and outcomes. The Family Spirit intervention is designed to promote mothers’ parenting skills, while assisting them in developing coping and problem-solving skills to overcome individual and environmental stressors.
The model also incorporates traditional tribal teachings throughout the curriculum. The model developers believe that cultural teachings are protective factors that can improve maternal and child health in American Indian communities.
Family Spirit serves pregnant women and families with children younger than age 3. The developer strongly recommends enrolling mothers early in pregnancy. Family Spirit was designed to be implemented in Native American communities. However, it is now also being used with non-Native populations with high maternal and child behavioral health disparities.
The model aims to (1) increase parenting knowledge and skills; (2) address maternal psychosocial risk factors that could interfere with positive child-rearing (such as drug and alcohol use, depression, low education, unemployment, and intimate partner violence); (3) promote optimal physical, cognitive, and social/emotional development for children ages birth to 3 years; (4) prepare children for early school success; (5) ensure children receive recommended well-child visits and health care; (6) link families to community services to address specific needs; and (7) promote parents’ and children’s life skills and behavioral outcomes across the lifespan.
Paraprofessional health educators visit families in their homes. They try to establish a close rapport with families to facilitate delivery of the curriculum, which consists of 63 lessons within the following six domains: prenatal care, infant care, child development, toddler care, life skills, and healthy living. The health educators also refer families to community resources to address specific needs.
Model Intensity and Length
The model consists of 63 lessons divided into six domains. Lessons are intended to be taught sequentially over 52 home visits. Family Spirit recommends initiating the program by at least 28 weeks of gestation and continuing until the child’s third birthday. Home visits are more intensive in the prenatal and newborn stages, and diminish in frequency as children age. The model developers recommend weekly visits through the child’s first 3 months, biweekly from 4 to 6 months, monthly from 7 to 22 months, and bimonthly from 23 to 36 months of age. Visits typically last 45 to 90 minutes.
Family Spirit has been implemented in over 100 reservation-based and urban Native communities across 17 states. The Family Spirit national office has also trained affiliates in two non-Native urban communities with high maternal and child behavioral health disparities.
Adaptations and Enhancements
Family Spirit allows affiliates to make enhancements to the curriculum and model to meet program and families’ needs at the local level. For example, affiliates can incorporate cultural enhancements and add group sessions on Family Spirit lessons such as basic infant and toddler care or life skills. Family Spirit research trials have not evaluated clinic- or group-based administration.
The Family Spirit national office at the Johns Hopkins University Center for American Indian Health must approve adaptations to the model.
The information contained on this page was last updated in April 2018. Recommended Further Reading lists the sources for this information. In addition, the information contained in this profile was reviewed for accuracy by the Family Spirit team at Johns Hopkins University Center for American Indian Health on January 5, 2018. HomVEE reserves the right to edit the profile for clarity and consistency.