Families today experience seemingly more demands than ever before. We are busy with the ongoing obligations of our work, economic needs, school, recreational, and children's activities. The role of technology in our lives and the constant flow of information coming our way impacts families in ways not yet fully known. Creating time to be a family together, doing (or not doing!) those things that we want, need, or are expected to do as a family can be challenging. For families raising children with special health care needs, these challenges can increase due to the need to prepare and think through the details of everyday life activities.
I, Dr. Sarah Smith, am an occupational therapist and an assistant professor in the UNH Department of Occupational Therapy and the director of this research program. I have been a pediatric occupational therapist for over 20 years. During my time working in schools and outpatient therapy settings, I recognized the need for services that supported not only an individual child's occupations but also the whole families' participation in everyday activities that families wanted and needed to do such as playing/relaxing together, going to a community event, or having a family meal. I noticed a lack of services supporting families to develop the ability to participate in everyday activities together because much emphasis was understandably placed on the development of the child.
As an occupational therapist, I support people's participation in everyday "occupations", or the everyday activities of life that we want and need to do that bring us meaning. As a researcher, I am interested in the relationship of our engagement in occupations with our overall health and well being. From the family perspective, the current demands on families potentially impact our ability to participate in occupations as a family and thus may threaten family cohesion, adaptability, and well being. Evidence suggests that family togetherness, balance, and intentional living can promote family health and wellness. The Healthy Families Research Program seeks to understand and support the specific factors and processes that promote strong family health, as well as the relationship between family participation in everyday activities and family health in order to inform effective family interventions within the healthcare system. Promoting family engagement in everyday routines and activities toward strong family health and wellness is the heart of my Healthy Families Research Program.