In five short years, the National Foundation for Family Research and Education has seen its influence grow slowly, but it hopes that a number of major projects will make it the premier provider of information on the family in the years to come.

The non-profit, non-partisan Calgary-based think-tank is positioning itself to be the most quoted and most recognized source of reliable information on family trends. One project that will help establish its credentials is the Family Health Index, the first edition of which was released last November. Another major project is co-sponsoring a second bi-annual conference to be held this June.

The conference, The Changing Family, will be held in Banff June 3-6 and will look at topics such as social policy, age of consent, taxation, alternative medicine, forms of discipline, parental rights, international trends, Ritalin, and family structures.

Dr. Mark Genuis, the NFFRE’s founder, told The Interim he wants the conference to “be the premier international event of support to families.” The conference will bring together researchers, family service professionals and concerned citizens to examine what is happening to the family in society. Its topics all reflect the NFFRE’s mandate to “study and support families, the cornerstone of our society, with a view to encouraging the positive development and health of both present and future generations.”

The NFFRE’s mandate, and the organization itself, came out of Genuis’s personal experience as a psychologist. After counselling families and children, he wondered whether the cases he dealt with were unique or whether they were representative of society. He called Statistics Canada and, after culling the data, realized that there was a societal trend toward the social pathologies and self-destructive behaviours (for example, drug abuse, eating disorders, and suicide) that his patients displayed.

He turned down a lucrative software business opportunity because, as he said, “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” He founded the NFFRE so it could provide information on family trends that might spur government and professional action.

So even as a think tank, its work goes beyond publishing papers and holding conferences. In recent years, the NFFRE has worked with the federal government’s Correctional Services, looking at ways of preventing pedophilia, and it hopes to be working with provincial governments in the near future. It also has the ears of politicians in all parties from the NDP to Reform, and the Liberal government has passed motions which were influenced by the NFFRE’s work.

Lorne Gunter, a columnist with the Edmonton Journal, told The Interimthat the NFFRE is uniquely situated to influence family policy in this country. “They have good timing,” Gunter said. “They come at time when we are seeing mainstream sociologists-academics questioning the effects of the family and sexual revolutions.”

Gunter added that the Vanier Institute, another family policy think tank, does good research but goes wrong in its analyses. The strength of the NFFRE is that it looks at the family as a whole. This allows it to see, for instance, that families in which fathers are absent are often “breeding grounds for all kinds of pathologies.”