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Family Science

The Developing Discipline Of Family Science

It might be noted that much of this early work, though family-focused, was interdisciplinary in nature. Some have labeled the initial phase of formal study about families the "Discovery Stage" (NCFR Task Force 1988). During this time, scholars from various disciplines were discovering family to be a fruitful domain of intellectual inquiry. For example, the premier association of family professionals, National Council on Family Relations (NCFR), was founded in 1938 by law professor Paul Sayre from the University of Iowa, working closely with Ernest Burgess, a sociologist from the University of Chicago, and Sidney Goldstein, a New York rabbi. NCFR's second president was the distinguished Swiss psychiatrist and neurologist, Adolf Meyer, who served as professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University (Dail and Jewson 1986). Many other examples of collaborative activity across disciplines exist from this period.

During the second "Pioneering Stage," Ernest Groves (1946) argued for the formation of a new science of marriage and family.

The establishment of a definite program for the training of specialists in the field of


TABLE 1 Employment Opportunities In Family Science
Career Area Employment Opportunities Career Area Employment Opportunities
Education Public school teaching in family & consumer sciences (certification) Business, Consumer and Family Resource Services Employee assistance specialist
Corporate day care administrator
University teaching & research in family science departments Consumer protection agencies
Family financial counseling & planning
Family life and sexuality education
Programs in parish & community settings Family resource management
Food assistance programs
Parent educators Child and family poverty research
Family peace & justice education Research on work and families
Children's museum education Family business consultant
Marriage & family enrichment facilitators
Research Grant proposal writing International Education & Development International family policy analyst
Academic and government-related research in family science content areas Peace corps and NGO leadership
Global family planning programs
Community & sustainable development
Population studies & demographic research
International human rights advocacy
Community-based research for non-profit family agencies services Immigration & migrant family
Cross-cultural family studies programs
Program evaluation & assessment
Family Intervention Individual & family therapy Community-Based Social Services Adoption agencies
Case manager for family treatment plans Foster care programs
Teen pregnancy counselor
Crisis & hotline services Family preservation worker
Court-mandated parent education programs Welfare assistance for low-Income families
Divorce mediation Vocational rehabilitation & job training
Abuse protection services
Drug & alcohol prevention counselors Adult day care providers
Gerontology programs
Residential treatment programs
Victim/witness support services
Government & Public Policy Family policy analyst Health Care & Family Wellness Public health programs & services
Advocate/lobbyist on behalf of children, women, & family well-being Hospital family support professionals
Nutrition education & counseling
Prenatal and maternity services
Cooperative extension specialist Holistic health centers
Aid to dependent children Long-term care administrator
Military family support services Hospice programs
Departments of child & family services
Writing and Communication Curriculum & resource development in family life education Early Childhood Education Day care centers
Head start programs
Public service radio and TV programming Montessori schools
Child development consultant
Newspaper & magazine journalism on social issues affecting children and families

marriage and the family means that several sciences must contribute to the instruction. The outcome will be a science of marriage and the family carried out by specialists who will draw their data from a wide range of resources. They will not be sociologists, home economists, or social workers, but persons who are committed to the gathering and the giving of information that concerns marriage and the family, who have prepared themselves for such an undertaking, and who approach their task from a background shared by no other science. (p. 26)

Advocates for the emerging field of family science argued that all disciplines have their historic roots and origins. They questioned how commonly recognized sociology was in 1839, psychology in 1865, or gerontology in 1945 (Burr and Leigh 1983). They further reasoned that all other major social institutions have established disciplinary identities. The economic institution has its discipline of economics; the religious institution, religion; and politics has political science. There is a similar need for boundaries around the discipline of family science because "family is one of the most fundamental and complex human institutions, and it is distinct in many ways from other institutions and aspects of reality" (Burr and Leigh 1983, p. 468).

During the Pioneering Stage, family departments generated a variety of names to describe their discipline. A 1982 NCFR (Burr and Leigh 1983) survey indicated that 79 percent of the membership felt that identity ambiguity about the discipline was a "serious problem." In response, a task force was appointed by then NCFR President Bert Adams to reach consensus around the clearest terminology to reflect this emerging field of study. After numerous discussions, open forums, and published essays, the task force brought its final recommendation to the 1985 NCFR Conference in Dallas, Texas. Their recommendation, advocating family science as the preferred term for the emerging discipline, was unanimously adopted. "The unanimity of the endorsement was interpreted as a virtual mandate— further justifying subsequent action, such as changing names of courses, majors, and eventually departments around the country" (NCFR Task Force 1987). Around this time a Family Science Section was formed within the NCFR. In 1988, the Family Science Association (FSA), which sponsors an annual conference on Teaching Family Science, was established, and in 1989 the University of Kentucky began hosting an international discussion list for family scientists and researchers called FAMLSCI. The listserv, created and managed by Gregory Brock, had 650 subscribers as of February 2002.

During the "Maturing Stage," family science further consolidated its identity. The result has been a domain of inquiry that is interdisciplinary in nature, yet conceptually unique. It has been suggested that "the family field has entered a unique historical era because it has a bona fide family discipline and also complex interdisciplinary ties. In other words, rather than concluding that it is A rather than B, we conclude that it is A and B. It is a discipline and an interdisciplinary area" (Burr and Leigh 1983, p. 470).

Maturity in the field is further seen by the development of professional standards and a professional code of ethics. For example, the Family Science Section of NCFR initiated and developed a code of ethics for family professionals that was endorsed by the broader NCFR membership in 1998 (Adams 2001; Adams et al. 2001; Doherty 1999). The importance of clarifying ethical principles and guidelines for family scientists is reinforced by the fact that one of the Certified Family Life Educator (CFLE) substance areas includes attention to the area of ethics.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily Theory & Types of FamiliesFamily Science - Historical Background, The Developing Discipline Of Family Science, Academic Programs In Family Science, Substance Areas Comprising The Discipline