Families with a social network of emotionally supportive friends, family and neighbors often find it easier to care for their children and themselves. Most families need people they can call on when they need a sympathetic listener, advice or concrete support (like a babysitter or lift to work). Conversely, research has shown that families who are isolated with few social connections are at higher risk for child abuse and neglect.
Developing self-confidence and social skills is the first step to expanding your social networks. Helping families identify resources and/or providing opportunities for them to make connections within their neighborhood or community may encourage isolated families to reach out. Often, opportunities exist within faith-based organizations, schools, hospitals, community centers and other places where support groups or social groups meet.
Sometimes families will not identify alack of social connections or emotional support as an issue. Instead, they may be concerned about a child’s behavior problem or their own depression. In addressing the parent’s concerns, you can also provide information about how these needs might be met by connecting with others (e.g., a support group for families with similar issues). You can also provide general information on how expanding social connections can reduce isolation and support their parenting needs. Consider sharing the following:
Benefits of a broad social network
- Helps ease the burden of parenting
- Models positive social interactions for children and gives children access to other supportive adults
- Provides support in crisis
- Offers opportunities to help others
Ways to broaden a social network
- Overcome transportation, childcare and other barriers; like taking a bus or carpool to a play group, or joining a babysitting co-op to meet other families and have occasional childcare
- Access community resources, especially those with which the parent has some experience - such as a church he or she attended, a Head Start program where the child is enrolled, and/or a cultural center that offers services in the parent’s native language
- Join a parent’s group or play group in the neighborhood
And if a group does not already exist…
Some neighborhoods and communities provide ample opportunities for neighbors to come together and friendships to develop. In other cases, agencies and organizations may welcome help in starting groups that bring families together for mutual support.
These groups often start as an outgrowth of a widely recognized need in the community, such as new families that have just moved to the area or concerned citizens working against community violence. Community involvement is critical for these groups to be sustained over time. As a service provider, your role might be to bring individuals together (including families), providing a meeting place or simply encouraging a community leader to establish a group to meet a particular need.