Introduction: This paper describes the critical role community psychology theories played in reframing literacy research involving mainly Māori and Pacific peoples’ extended families and communities. Within a critical social constructionist paradigm, ecological systems theory and holistic, integrative theories of wellbeing brought much-needed new thinking to how family-focused adult literacy education might be theorised and practiced. This reframing marks a challenge to and movement away from still-dominant Western individualistic, behavioural orientated, skills-based and formal economy-focused ways of thinking about people’s literacy abilities. It highlights the important role of community psychology in developing theory, informing policy and enhancing practices in culturally diverse education settings to achieve both educational and quality of life aims. Improving quality of life is not possible through literacy education in and of itself, but rather through the inculcation in programme design and delivery of those things which are fundamental and critical to the participants’ overall wellbeing and welfare.