PROJECTStabilizing Children's Lives—A Web of Stabilizing Supports



Stability in children’s environments, relationships, and basic needs being met is critical for their healthy development and well-being. Instability—defined as the experience of abrupt and/or involuntary change in individual, family, or community circumstances—can create significant barriers to meeting these foundational needs, particularly if the disruption is negative, frequent, or not buffered by an adult. The extent to which children experience instability is related to the actions of various actors, with parents and guardians primary among them, who together play an important role in the stability of meeting children’s core needs and can buffer children from instability through different mechanisms. However, all relationships and interactions demonstrated in the model, and the ability of different actors to actively support stability in meeting children’s core needs, are shaped by the greater contexts of the economy, policy, and culture. Finally, the model’s different elements are highly interconnected, as they are all part of the child’s web of stabilizing supports.

Core Needs

All children need stability in three core areas: relationships with at least one loving, caring adult, access to basic resources (food, health, housing, education), and daily life (routine, safety). The parent or guardian directly or indirectly helps children access most core needs and serves as a child’s central buffer against stress and instability.

Click on the icons below for more information on how each actor shapes the stability of different core needs. Then continue scrolling below for more information on each model component.

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Although parents or guardians are the central actors affecting a child’s core needs, other actors can affect the stability of these needs being met through mechanisms that affect children directly, or indirectly through parents. Key actors include but are not limited to employers; social service providers; health care providers; civic and faith organizations; safety, justice, and law authorities; education and child care providers; and family and friends.

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Children’s core needs can be stabilized or destabilized through different mechanisms, or the ways in which different actors affect core needs. Key mechanisms include income, benefits, direct interactions, information and access, and control over time.


The ways in which actors in the model affect children’s core needs are shaped by the cultural, economic, and political climate in which all actors live. These overlapping contexts affect what resources families have, how they spend their time and with whom they spend it, their communities, what services and supports they have access to from other actors, and the quality of those services and supports—all of which can be stabilizing or destabilizing for children. These contextual factors also shape the ability of key actors to support stability in children’s lives.

The Web of Interconnections

All actors and core needs in the cycle of family stability are interrelated, as illustrated by the web in the model. The impact of one actor on a child’s life can not only affect the stability of a child’s core needs being met, but can also reverberate back out and affect the stability of that child’s relationship with another actor. Moreover, the stability of any given core need can affect the stability of other core needs.

Research Areas Children and youth
Tags Kids in context