• caring for families;
  • family nursing;
  • early support needs;
  • small children

Aims. This study describes the early needs for support that families with small children have in the context of their own life situations. The study population consisted of Finnish families (n = 551) who participated in a project titled ‘Families with Children’ (1996–2001). The project supplemented the existing public services. The information provided by the study was utilized in supporting families and developing family work in seven experimental areas.

Methods. The data were collected between 1997 and 2000 using family service plans and client reports. The data were analysed with inductive content analysis and using the SPSS software (version 7·5).

Findings. The families needed support in the areas of parenthood, upbringing and child care, marital problems and social support networks. The need for early support was also connected to health problems of the children or the parents, problems with work or studies, unemployment, problems in economic or living conditions, or family crises. In addition to support, the families searched for help from family workers in disputes over child custody and visitation rights, intoxicant abuse and violence, and problems in adjusting to society. Each family had 4–5 needs for early support.

Conclusions. The results demonstrate that families with small children have many needs for which they seek help when there are available services supplementing the existing public services. The information provided by the study can be utilized in maternity and child welfare clinics, in social services and in family work provided by civic organizations to define the early needs of families for support and to develop services.