A child’s family has a central and enduring influence on his or her entire life. The practice of pediatrics involves working closely with families to promote the attainment of optimal health and well-being of children. Understanding the child’s family is essential in accomplishing this goal. And yet, there is a paucity of scientific investigations of today’s families.
In 1998, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) appointed a Task Force on the Family, a panel of committed pediatricians with varying backgrounds and experiences, all of whom shared common concerns about families. They were charged with analyzing the available literature and producing a report to help guide pediatricians and the Academy. This group took its task seriously, worked diligently, and produced a significant document. They are to be thanked for the energy, time, and effort they have devoted to this project and congratulated for the report they have produced.
This report has been accepted by the Board of Directors of the Academy. Like other task force reports, it does not constitute AAP policy, but represents an important contribution to an ongoing dialogue and should serve as a stimulus for additional research. We hope this report will be read and used as a resource by AAP committees, sections, chapters, and members and that it will stimulate further research which will result in better data in this important area.
Although many references are cited in the report, most are from journals that are not commonly read by most pediatricians. Of the existing literature on families’ influence on children, few studies are designed, implemented, and analyzed in a manner that physician scientists would accept in a peer-reviewed journal. In addition, task force reports are not necessarily scientific papers, and as such, not all statements and conclusions are referenced. Finally, we understand that when a topic is as sensitive to each of us as our families are, personal opinion, values, and beliefs may influence conclusions, especially when data are conflicting or lacking regarding the effects families have on children.
All of us concerned with families are indebted to the task force. The information in the report will give pediatricians a better understanding of diversity in the composition of their patients’ families and will allow them to learn more about these children and their families in general.
As we move forward, the Academy and pediatricians stand ready to serve all children in all families, regardless of the family structure in which they live.