Protective Factors Surveys

What are the Protective Factors Surveys?

The Protective Factors Survey (PFS) and the Protective Factors Survey, 2nd Edition (PFS-2) are designed for use with parents and caregivers participating in family support and child maltreatment prevention services. The PFS and PFS-2 assess multiple protective factors to prevent child abuse and neglect. Both surveys are intended to help agencies and programs better assess changes in family protective factors – a primary focus of prevention work. To view the tools, see the PFS or PFS-2 tabs below.

The survey results are designed to:

  • provide agencies with a snapshot of the families they serve,
  • measure changes in family protective factors, and
  • help identify areas where staff can focus on increasing protective factors for each family.

For many years and in many cases, even now, the child abuse prevention field focused primarily on risk—how likely abuse or neglect might occur when risk factors are present. Risks, such as poverty, trauma, and disabilities, among others, are known to contribute to the likelihood that a child might be abused or neglected.

Yet most families—even those in risk—do not abuse or neglect their children. Certain conditions, when present in families’ lives, help them to overcome the odds that could otherwise lead to tragedy. Those conditions are protective factors.

Outcomes for children affected by trauma can be improved by helping them and their families build protective factors. In other words, protective factors help to mitigate risks; they can help families to weather life’s stress and trauma with less damage. Through building protective factors we can help families develop assets and skills for handling life’s challenges more effectively.

To learn more about what the research tells us about protective factors, please visit our Protective Factors page.

Why was the original Protective Factors Survey (PFS) revised?

Following several years of implementation by practitioners working in the field of child maltreatment prevention, FRIENDS determined that the instrument could be revised to clarify wording and reflect a broader range of attitudes and behaviors within the subscales, especially in the areas of concrete supports and social supports.

Beginning in 2014, significant research was conducted to revise and improve the existing PFS in alignment with the most current research.

The revisions made on the PFS-2 are intended to capture a broader range of attitudes and behaviors by clarifying and rewording items, minimizing cultural bias, and by collapsing the response categories. In addition to the traditional pre/post version of the PFS-2, a retrospective version is available.

Which version is best for my needs?

The table below can assist agencies in deciding which version of the survey is right for their service delivery needs.

Features

Protective Factors Survey (PFS)

Protective Factors Survey, 2nd Edition (PFS-2)

Items

7-point scale, 20 items

5-point scale, 19 items

Formats

Traditional Pre/Post and Retrospective

Traditional Pre/Post and Retrospective

Languages

English and Spanish (S-PFS)

English

Protective Factors Measured

Social Emotional Support

Concrete Support

Nurturing and Attachment

Family Functioning/Resiliency

Knowledge of Parent & Child Development(1)

Social Supports

Concrete Supports

Nurturing and Attachment

Family Functioning/Resilience

Caregiver/Practitioner Relationship(2)

Reliability (Cronbach’s coefficient alpha)

Social Emotional Support, α = 0.89

Concrete Support, α = 0.76

Family Functioning/Resiliency, α = 0.89

Nurturing and Attachment, α = 0.81

Social Supports, α = 0.75

Concrete Supports, α = 0.82

Family Functioning/Resilience, α = 0.82

Nurturing and Attachment, α = 0.77

Caregiver/Practitioner Relationship, α = 0.59

User Manuals

Database Available

Yes. There is an online data system that is available for agencies to use. Please visit PFS Database to learn more.

Yes. There is an online data system that is available for agencies to use. Please visit PFS Database to learn more.

1. The items that relate to Knowledge of Parenting and Child Development do not function as a subscale, but are instead a grouping of items. *Knowledge of Parenting and Child Development is not included as a subscale in the PFS-2. While these are known protective factors, these factors were excluded from the PFS-2 because there is reason to believe that respondents’ self-reported level of parenting and child development knowledge is not an accurate reflection of true parenting knowledge, but rather captures parenting confidence or tendency toward self-reflection. We believe that parent knowledge and competence can be reflected in the attitudes and behaviors addressed in the other subscales. For more information, please refer to the PFS-2 FAQ.

2. While the Caregiver/Practitioner Relationship is not often identified as a protective factor, this subscale can help service providers better assess their ability to effectively engage with caregivers, and support improved service delivery.

The table below can assist agencies in deciding which version of the survey is right for their service delivery needs.

Protective Factors Survey (PFS)

Protective Factors Survey, 2nd Edition (PFS-2)

Items: 7-point scale, 20 items

Items: 5-point scale, 19 items

Formats: Traditional Pre/Post and Retrospective

Formats: Traditional Pre/Post and Retrospective

Languages: English and Spanish (S-PFS)

Languages: English

Protective Factors Measured:

Social Emotional Support

Concrete Support

Nurturing and Attachment

Family Functioning/ Resiliency

Knowledge of Parent & Child Development(1)

Protective Factors Measured:

Social Supports

Concrete Supports

Nurturing and Attachment

Family Functioning/ Resilience

Caregiver/ Practitioner Relationship(2)

Reliability (Cronbach’s coefficient alpha):

Social Emotional Support, α = 0.89

Concrete Support, α = 0.76

Family Functioning/ Resiliency, α = 0.89

Nurturing and Attachment, α = 0.81

Reliability (Cronbach’s coefficient alpha):

Social Supports, α = 0.75

Concrete Supports, α = 0.82

Family Functioning/ Resilience, α = 0.82

Nurturing and Attachment, α = 0.77

Caregiver/ Practitioner Relationship, α = 0.59

Database Available?

Yes. There is an online data system that is available for agencies to use. Please visit PFS Database to learn more.

Database Available?

Yes. There is an online data system that is available for agencies to use. Please visit PFS Database to learn more.

1. The items that relate to Knowledge of Parenting and Child Development do not function as a subscale, but are instead a grouping of items. *Knowledge of Parenting and Child Development is not included as a subscale in the PFS-2. While these are known protective factors, these factors were excluded from the PFS-2 because there is reason to believe that respondents’ self-reported level of parenting and child development knowledge is not an accurate reflection of true parenting knowledge, but rather captures parenting confidence or tendency toward self-reflection. We believe that parent knowledge and competence can be reflected in the attitudes and behaviors addressed in the other subscales. For more information, please refer to the PFS-2 FAQ.

2. While the Caregiver/Practitioner Relationship is not often identified as a protective factor, this subscale can help service providers better assess their ability to effectively engage with caregivers, and support improved service delivery.

What is the Protective Factors Survey (PFS)?

The PFS is a pre-post evaluation tool for use with caregivers receiving child maltreatment prevention services. It is a self-administered survey that measures protective factors in five areas: family functioning/resiliency, social support, concrete support, nurturing and attachment, and knowledge of parenting/child development. A one-page overview of the tool can be viewed here.

Is the PFS the right tool for you?

As you make decisions about whether the PFS is the right tool for your program, please refer to our PFS Checklist.

If you find that the PFS is not the right fit for your services, you may want to review FRIENDS’ annotated compendium of evaluation tools as a resource.

How was the PFS developed?

The PFS is a product of the FRIENDS National Center in collaboration with the University of Kansas Institute for Educational Research and Public Service. It was developed with the advice and assistance from CBCAP grantees, parents, researchers, administrators, workers, and experts specializing in family support, child maltreatment, and psychological measurement. The survey has undergone four national field tests for establishing reliability and validity. To view materials from that testing, see the Field Test Report and Phase 4 Summary documents on the left.

Is the PFS an evidence-based measurement tool?

Yes, the California Clearinghouse on Evidence-Based Practices (http://www.cebc4cw.org) has included the PFS as an evidence-based tool in their listings.

How is the PFS used?

The primary purpose of the Protective Factors Survey is to provide feedback to agencies for continuous quality improvement and evaluation purposes. The survey results are designed to help agencies measure changes in protective factors and identify areas where workers can focus on increasing individual family protective factors. A full set of instructions on how to administer the PFS can be found by downloading the PFS User Manual.

Why are the demographics and program information questions different on some versions of the PFS?

The demographics and program information questions were updated in September of 2020 to align the information across all versions of the PFS and PFS-2, allowing for streamlined data collection efforts by organizations utilizing multiple versions of the survey.  These changes did not impact the validity or reliability of the overall surveys.  To see a comprehensive matrix of the changes you can download the chart here. You can download the archived versions by clicking the titles here – 2008 PFS – 2008 Retrospective PFS – 2008 S-PFS

Is there an online data system for survey administration and data collection of the Protective Factors Survey?

The Protective Factors Survey Online Data System (PFSODS) is a web-based tool that allows users access to an online data system. This system enables users to manage all aspects of the original Protective Factors Survey (PFS) and the Protective Factors Survey, 2nd Edition (PFS-2). This system allows users to locally own their data while having access to a state-of-the-art online data collection system.

This system is designed to allow for a digital administration of the survey via direct interaction with clients or a text, email link, or QR code for completion at a separate time.  The system is responsive and can be administered on a phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop environment.  These options allow for direct entry by clients into the system, eliminating potentially time-consuming data entry.  If you don’t have digital access for client administration- don’t worry! You can still use this system.  You can administer traditional paper/pencil surveys and use the system for data entry via the paper entry format.

What is the Protective Factors Survey, 2nd Edition (PFS-2)?

The PFS-2 is an evaluation tool for use with caregivers receiving child maltreatment prevention services. It is a self-administered pre/post or retrospective survey that measures protective factors in five areas: family functioning and resilience, social supports, concrete supports, nurturing and attachment, and caregiver/practitioner relationship.

Is the PFS-2 the right tool for you?

As you make decisions about whether the PFS-2 is the right tool for your program, please review the Purpose and Use. Additional information to help agencies determine whether to use the retrospective or the pre/post version of the PFS-2 can be found here. If you find that the PFS-2 is not the right fit for your services, you may want to review FRIENDS’ annotated compendium of evaluation tools as a resource.

How was the PFS-2 developed?

The PFS-2 is a product of the FRIENDS National Center in collaboration with the University of Kansas Center for Public Partnerships and Research. While the original PFS continues to be a valid and reliable1 instrument that assesses multiple protective factors and can continue to be used, the PFS was revised to better capture families’ growth and change by clarifying and rewording questions. The PFS-2 was developed with the advice and assistance from CBCAP grantees, parents, researchers, administrators, workers, and experts specializing in family support, child maltreatment, and psychological measurement, and has undergone a national field test.

Is the PFS-2 an evidence-based measurement tool?

Yes, the California Clearinghouse on Evidence-Based Practices has included the PFS-2 as an evidence-based tool in their listings. View the listing here.

For more information, see peer-reviewed articles related to the PFS-2:

Sprague-Jones, J., Counts, J., Rousseau, M., & Firman, C. (2019). The development of the protective factors survey: a self-report measure of protective factors against child maltreatment. Child abuse & neglect, 89, 122-134 View source.

Sprague-Jones, J., Singh, P., Rousseau, M., Counts, J., & Firman, C. (2020). The Protective Factors Survey: Establishing validity and reliability of a self-report measure of protective factors against child maltreatment. Children and Youth Services Review111, 104868 View source.

How is the PFS-2 used?

The primary purpose of the Protective Factors Survey, 2nd Edition is to provide feedback to agencies for continuous quality improvement and evaluation purposes. The survey results are designed to help agencies measure changes in protective factors and identify areas where workers can focus on increasing individual family protective factors. Click here to learn more about the purpose and use of the PFS-2. A quick-start guide for staff preparing and administering the PFS-2 can be found here, and the full set of instructions on administering and scoring the PFS-2 can be found by downloading the PFS-2 User Manual.

Is there a Spanish version of the PFS-2?

A Spanish-translated version of the PFS-2 (SPFS-2) has been tested and found to have good reliability and validity (Jessica Sprague-Jones, et al The Spanish Protective Factors Survey, Second Edition: Initial translation and preliminary validation, Children and Youth Services Review, in press.)  The instruments, both the traditional pre/post and retrospective, are available, as well as a full SPFS-2 Manual in Spanish.

How was the SPFS-2 developed?

The SPFS-2 is a direct translation of the PFS-2 into Spanish. FRIENDS partnered with the University of Kansas Center for Public Partnership and Research (CPPR) to develop the SPFS-2. CPPR contracted with Qualtrics to translate the PFS-2 into Spanish and field the translation with panel data. FRIENDS and CPPR consulted with practitioners with expertise in working with Spanish-speaking families and adjusted the translation at the item level based on their feedback. Results of CPPR’s analysis of panel data indicate that the Spanish translation psychometrically functions very similarly to the English version of the tool.

How can the SPFS-2 be administered?

Both versions of SPFS-2, traditional pre/post and retrospective, are available for traditional paper/pencil administration or for electronic administration through the Protective Factors Survey Online Data System (PFSODS). Using that system, the survey can be administered electronically to program participants via direct device handoff, email, text message, and QR code. See the PFSODS section for more information.

Can the original S-PFS continue to be used?

Yes – the original S-PFS continues to be a reliable and valid peer-reviewed instrument that assesses multiple protective factors to prevent child abuse and neglect2. The original PFS and S-PFS and associated materials are still available on the FRIENDS website and can continue to be used.

Is there an online data system for survey administration and data collection of the Protective Factors Survey?

The Protective Factors Survey Online Data System (PFSODS) is a web-based tool that allows users access to an online data system. This system enables users to manage all aspects of the original Protective Factors Survey (PFS) and the Protective Factors Survey, 2nd Edition (PFS-2). This system allows users to locally own their data while having access to a state-of-the-art online data collection system.

This system is designed to allow for a digital administration of the survey via direct interaction with clients or a text, email link, or QR code for completion at a separate time.  The system is responsive and can be administered on a phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop environment.  These options allow for direct entry by clients into the system, eliminating potentially time-consuming data entry.  If you don’t have digital access for client administration- don’t worry! You can still use this system.  You can administer traditional paper/pencil surveys and use the system for data entry via the paper entry format.

Protective Factors Survey, 2nd Edition Resources

Scoring the PFS-2 Manually
PFS-2 FAQ


1. Counts, J. M., Buffington, E. S., Chang-Rios, K., Rasmussen, H. N., & Preacher, K. J. (2010). The development and validation of the protective factors survey: A self-report measure of protective factors against child maltreatment. Child Abuse & Neglect, 34(10), 762-772.

2. Aislinn Conrad-Hiebner, Alexander Schoemann, Jaqueline Counts, & Karin Chang. The development and validation of the Spanish adaptation of the Protective Factors Survey. Children and Youth Services Review, 52, (2015): 45-53

What is the Protective Factors Survey for Military Families (PFS-MF)?

The Protective Factors Survey Military (PFS-MF) is an adaptation of the Protective Factors Survey, 2nd Edition (PFS-2). It was designed for use with parents and caregivers participating in family support programs that serve military families. It is a self-administered pre/post or retrospective survey that measures protective factors in five areas: Social Supports, Military Family Life and Resilience, Concrete Supports, Nurturing and Attachment, and Program Evaluation.

Is the PFS-MF the right tool for you?

If you are serving families in which a parent or caregiver is in the military, the PFS-MF may be a good tool for examining how your services influence protective factors. As you make decisions about whether the PFS-MF is the right tool for your program, please review the PFS-MF Guide. The guiding document will help you determine whether the tool is a good fit for your program. It will also help you determine when to administer the tool and if the retrospective or the pre/post version is more appropriate.  If you find that the PFS-MF is not the right fit for your services, you may want to review FRIENDS’ annotated compendium of evaluation tools as a resource.

How was the PFS-MF developed?

Greentrike, originally the Children’s Museum of Tacoma, is a private nonprofit with a focus on serving children and families through play-based, child-led learning. As more and more military families began participating in Greentrike activities and they expanded their facilities to Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), they wanted to ensure that evaluation tools for measuring outcomes were relevant to the unique needs of military families. To meet that objective, Greentrike partnered with FRIENDS, The University of Kansas Center for Community Partnerships and Research (CPPR), and their external evaluator, Yve Susskind, of Praxis Associates, to design, test, and disseminate the Protective Factors Survey for Military Families, the PFS-MF. The PFS-MF is an adaptation of the Protective Factors Survey, 2nd Edition (PFS-2). The tool was conceptualized not just for military families participating in Greentrike programming, but military families served by other programs on a national level.  The development process included multiple focus groups, including members of FRIENDS’ Parent Advisory Council (the PAC), and parents who were serving or had spouses serving at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM).

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