Working Toward Racial Equity in Family-Centered Coaching

father helping his toddler take steps

Family-Centered Coaching recognizes that equity is integral to the process of coaching as well as a necessary outcome to work towards. When coaches understand the barriers, stress, and trauma that racism and poverty have on families’ lives, they can more fully understand the context of each participant’s life and how they can provide support. 

Families face racial discrimination in employment and housing, or through limited access to high-quality educational opportunities and health services. People often experience immediate, chronic, and cumulative stress related to systemic racism. Acute and chronic stress affects daily functioning, physical and mental health, and even life expectancy.

Individual Blame for Systemic Problems

People of color are often individually blamed for problems that are systemic. The blame is often framed as personal responsibility, motivational deficiency, or stereotypes, such as laziness, criminality, promiscuity, immorality, and other derogatory depictions. These dehumanizing assumptions and stereotypes can be held unconsciously, not only by people, but by institutions and organizations, including well-meaning social service agencies and programs. 

While some racial bias is explicit and intentional, much of it is unconscious (also called implicit bias) and unintentional. Coaches who are aware of systemic racism and implicit bias more fully understand the lived realities, challenges, and external barriers faced by many of the people they are coaching. The following definitions provide a brief introduction and their implications for Family-Centered Coaching. 

Systemic Bias

Systemic bias, and in particular the impacts of systemic racism, is an array of historic, contemporary, institutional, and cultural dynamics that routinely privilege white people and disadvantage people of color. Systemic bias continues to produce real inequities, barriers, and stress for people of color. Practitioners of family-centered coaching often work with families of color, requiring awareness of how pervasive patterns of racial inequities often results in added challenges for families. 

Explicit Bias

Explicit bias, or overt racism, involves conscious and knowing discrimination towards other individuals and groups. 

Implicit Bias

Implicit bias refers to the way people unconsciously and sometimes unwillingly exhibit bias towards other individuals and groups. Many people are not aware of having implicit bias. Implicit bias should not be confused with explicit forms of bias or racism. Implicit bias can reveal itself in different ways, such as by the word we use to express our feelings and behavior toward people of color. These unconscious mechanisms are deeply embedded in various aspects of our lives, including health care, education, and our criminal justice system. Understanding implicit bias can help us recognize that individually we may not be to blame, but we are all responsible and accountable for confronting racist policies and behaviors. 

Taking Action for Racial Equity 

It is vital for coaches to be aware of the hidden biases, assumptions, or stereotypes that we all hold. It is equally important to understand the role that systemic racism plays in all of our lives, and especially in those of the families we work with. 

Examining potential biases is not about making you feel guilty or proud, it is about discovering internal influences that could affect your interactions with your participant. Your willingness to examine your own biases is a key step in preparing for each coaching session. The very act of discovering your hidden biases gives you an opportunity to challenge them. 

You can also take actions to deliberately move your organization’s practices toward racial equity with the Racial Equity Impact Assessment Toolkit by Race Forward. This assessment can help you address racial equity and inclusion on the front-end of decision making in order to prevent unintended consequences.

The Prosperity Agenda provides these resources as the designated national administrator of Family-Centered Coaching.