The Early Years: Family-Friendly Communities

Cranbrook Early Childhood Development Committee asks: What makes a community welcoming to families?

Theresa Bartraw

When a family faces a move, parents start by researching the ideal place to put down roots and raise the kids. Often parents aren’t sure exactly what to look for, but know when a new place feels like home.

In the past, families were left to their own intuition to select a new community. Now evidence is growing to guide families and communities on the elements that make a family-friendly community, a community with the elements that make it the best place possible to raise young children, allowing them to succeed in life.

What are the key elements of a family-friendly community?

Housing and Neighbourhoods

Family-friendly housing includes zoning regulations that promote multi-family housing, family-sized housing (two or more bedrooms), affordable housing and secondary suites. Family-friendly neighbourhoods are neighbourhoods where people know their neighbours and are willing to help one another, know about community resources, and hold events and celebrations that include all family members.


Schools in family-friendly communities are high quality, responsive to different family types and have effective parent advisory committees. These schools have before- and after-school care available and co-located community programs and services in school facilities. In family-friendly communities, business and schools work together in partnership to encourage career exploration, job training and skill development.

Playgrounds, Parks,Public Places

Playground equipment is safe, well maintained and built to proper standards in family-friendly communities. Designated areas are available for children of different ages and abilities and public places are available for varying family needs. Parks and public spaces like downtown shopping areas and malls welcome breastfeeding families and have family change tables available. Community gardens are available and public spaces are attractive for family use.

Mobility and Transportation

Family-friendly communities have sidewalks, bicycle lanes or trails, and streetscape improvements, including low traffic speeds, and play zones with clearly marked traffic laws. In addition, school transportation options are available, including walk-to-school programs.


Safety elements are considered in family-friendly communities such as: traffic calming in residential neighbourhoods, lighting guidelines that address or promote safety, design guidelines that facilitate neighbour interaction, street furniture that facilitates “eyes on the street”. In family-friendly communities parks are planned for safe use by citizens both during the day and at night. Fire departments, police stations, and ambulance services have reasonable response times and children in trouble know where to go for help.

Family Serving Agencies

In family-friendly communities, self-help groups, counselling and referral supports are available. Family physicians and health facilities are accessible and sensitive to the special needs of children and their families. Faith communities make their facilities available for use by the community and are active in providing support through outreach work and networking. Recreational and preventative programs are well publicized and accessible to all community members. Opportunities for volunteer involvement are made available. Community resource guides are available for parents.


Family-friendly workplaces provide options such as flextime, work at home options, and employee assistance programs. Managers are cognizant of work and family realities and workplace events include all family members. Affordable, accessible child care alternatives are present or nearby and workplace policies are sensitive to the family responsibilities of employees (i.e., breastfeeding, child illness, elderly parents, bereavement, maternity).

Public Involvement

Family participation in public planning processes and local civic decision making is encouraged in family-friendly communities. Special consideration is made to include childcare for public meetings and meetings should be held at convenient times and places. Documents for public engagement should be written in plain language and made readily available. Appropriate advocacy groups should also be available. It means including youth in civic decision-making as well.

What are the benefits?

Communities have a vested interest in evaluating how family friendly they are, since cities and towns which attract vibrant families, have more citizens that contribute to the community. Thriving families help create great cities as much as a city can offer a package of goods to attract families. The two reinforce each other and vibrant family-friendly communities create more livable standards for people of all ages.

This article was submitted by the Cranbrook Early Childhood Development Committee and written by Theresa Bartraw, ECD Committee Coordinator. Visit for more information.

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