1.4 History of family literacy programs

Let us look briefly at the history of family literacy programs. The earliest programs started in Israel, the United States, and the United Kingdom in the 1970s and 1980s (Thomas, 1998).They appear to have been launched because many children of low-income families were not performing well at school. In light of this obsevation, the US government, for example, subsidized the Even Start program, which was designed to support local family literacy projects for low-income families.

The American researcher Denny Taylor was the first to speak of family literacy in 1983.Using ethnographic research conducted over six years, she focused on the role of the family in children's learning processes as they acquired reading and writing skills. She observed that children's activities related to the process of learning to write are extremely complex and interrelated, and that they are influenced by families' intergenerational models and by the daily the personal experiences of family members, both within and outside the home (Taylor,1983).

Taylor was particularly interested in changes within families that allow family members to break with long-standing models of learning and create new possibilities. She also focused on the concept of conserration, or the continuity of family models that are passed on from one generation to the next. Along with tliese concepts of change and continuity, she explored the importance of parental attitudes in relation to social flexibilityand resilience, attitudes that influence multigenerational family models (ibid.).

Since tren, a variety of family literacy programs have been created all over the world. Generally speaking, these programs target the parents of preschool or primary school children and take place in schools or in community centres. Today, a number of researchers and practitioners promote family literacy programs because this approach recognizes the intergenerational transfers of language and literacies from parents to chil?ren and conversely, from children to parents that make it possible to break the vicious cycle of failure in school (Sticht, 2006).

In French Canada, the FCAF has taken on a leadership role among its members to guide and support them in their interventions with families. It founded the Réseau d'experts en alphabetisation familiale (network of exports in family literacy) in 2003 using funds from The Action Plan for Official Languages. The network's goal is to facilitate access to French-language family literacy programs and it has identified six areas of intervention:

  1. improving the organizational abilities of literacy groups,
  2. networking and sharing knowledge and competencies between family literacy groups and their potential partners,
  3. researching and analyzing the impact of family literacy interventions,
  4. training practitioners in the fundamentals of family literacy and family literacy programs,
  5. developing approaches and models used to improve family literacy, and
  6. promoting the outcomes of family literacy programs (FCAFI 2004b)