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Mission and History


Families First promotes the secure and nurturing parent-child relationships that are the foundation of every child’s overall well-being and future success.


Every child is secure, confident, resilient, and able to seize opportunities and succeed. All of our children are loved, guided, and supported by strong, knowledgeable, and collaborative parents, caregivers, schools, and communities.

History of Parenting Education and Families First

Founding and Growth

In 1988 society was changing, and the family was changing right along with it. Mothers were moving into the workforce in unprecedented numbers, divorce and remarriage rates were climbing, and the family structure that had been typical was no longer the norm. The job market was also changing, demanding more and more that young people graduate college if they were to be successful earners. Parents needed help rising to these new challenges.

Wheelock College and the Boston Children’s Museum founded Families First Parenting Programs to help parents with child rearing through parenting education. During the fall of 1988, we offered our first workshops at the Boston Children’s Museum. The workshops were based on the work of the Center for Parenting Studies at Wheelock College and were funded in part by the Charles Engelhard Foundation. Originally intended to meet the needs of visitors to the Museum, Families First’s workshops soon expanded into the neighborhoods and suburbs of Boston as requests for our groundbreaking workshops poured in.

By the end of 1992, Families First had outgrown its home at the Boston Children’s Museum and moved to its own office in Cambridge, though it remained a program of Wheelock College. During the 1990s, we provided technical assistance and core curriculum content to organizations interested in replicating our program in Houston, Texas, and Missoula, Montana. The Montana program still exists today but is now known as the Children’s Museum Missoula.

On July 1, 1998, Families First formally separated from Wheelock College and was incorporated as an independent Massachusetts non-profit corporation. A generous grant from the Boston Foundation assisted us in taking that major step. Over the years, Families First has sought to maintain close relationships with our founding and sister institutions while thriving and evolving as an independent organization.

Innovation at Families First

The end of the 20th century saw the largest wave of immigrants to the United States in 100 years. In response, Families First became an early provider of workshops in Spanish and Haitian Creole. We don’t simply translate the same curriculum, however: Our curriculum is adapted thoughtfully, taking into account the differing cultural norms of the immigrant groups we serve. Our in-house experts are constantly translating the latest research on parenting into new and updated curricula. Because of this, Families First is uniquely positioned to meet emerging parent needs, such as the challenges of pervasive technology, materialism, and violence.

While some things change, some things remain constant. Relationships are the basis of the family and healthy development, so the core of our work continues to be guiding parents to promote healthy relationships with their children and strengthen their families.

Today, in addition to our traditional workshops, we are leading the field locally in new modes of parenting support, such as technical assistance around family engagement for schools and other family-serving organizations under FUSE.

Milly Arbaje leading Salem workshop

Teen Mom

Families First Mission & History
Families First Mission Statement History