Family strengthening programs are needed now more than ever, and Children’s Trust continues to work with its partners across South Carolina to deliver services to children and families during the coronavirus pandemic. While social distancing has limited much of the in-person contact usually employed by our prevention programs, our partners have skillfully adapted their work to ensure children and families receive the support and resources they need to stay strong in these trying times.

Growing Home Southeast

Growing Home Southeast had completed three weeks of the 14-week cycle for the Strengthening Families Program (SFP) this spring when the program site at Cayce Elementary came to a sudden halt due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Everyone immediately had to take a step back to assess the situation as questions abounded. Could the program be delivered online by Growing Home Southeast instead of in-person? Could the six enrolled families complete the program to the same standard? Could Children’s Trust figure out the best way to keep delivering the evidence-based program at more than 30 sites across South Carolina?

The answers to all three questions were clear by the end of July: Yes, yes and yes.

Sabrina Plummer

Sabrina Plummer

After suspending the in-person SFP sessions around the state in mid-March, Children’s Trust worked strategically with its local partners to determine the most effective way to keep the program cycle moving forward by adapting it to a virtual space.

Sabrina Plummer, the site coordinator for Growing Home Southeast, saluted the commitment of Children’s Trust SFP staff, senior SFP coordinator Karen Dukes-Smith, and Growing Home Southeast program manager Sunmer Cuesta Terry in keeping the program on track so that it could safely restart after a two-month delay.

“We supported each other through all of the changes,” Plummer said. “The families that completed the virtual sessions transitioned well and all graduated. The program was still able to be delivered to fidelity. With extra care, the Strengthening Families Program was able to be a positive outlet during a time that we all needed it.”

Building Resilience, Reducing Conflict, Staying Connected

SFP, which is geared for families with children ages 6 to 11, helps parents and caregivers improve parenting skills, develop positive discipline practices, stay resilient in tough times, reduce conflict, and assist children with social skills, relationships, and school performance.

Children’s Trust, with funding from The Duke Endowment and the S.C. Department of Social Services, provides training for partners, collects data, and monitors the program to ensure it reaches the maximum potential for children and families as part of its overall mission to prevent child abuse and neglect in South Carolina.

Karen Dukes Smith

Karen Dukes-Smith

Dukes-Smith noted that as a result of restarting the program virtually, SFP providers have created a safe space for families to be together and take their minds off the weight of the world.

“Children’s Trust has played a pivotal role in safely moving forward in the midst of a pandemic. After a great deal of thoughtful consideration, discussion and planning, we relaunched SFP in the virtual platform,” Dukes-Smith said. “I am absolutely amazed by the willingness of our funders, purveyors, providers and families to venture into this virtual space with SFP.”

The program routinely features two-hour weekly sessions that begin with a family meal before splitting into parenting classes and child classes that have new lessons from the curriculum each week. They come together again as a full group to practice new skills at the end of each evening. But it all had to be moved online, and while it may have provided a different experience for the participating parents, they believed it still benefited their families.

Kelsey Clyburn said his wife Carrie convinced him to try the program. He’s glad that he did, as he told his fellow parents during the Zoom graduation ceremony.

“I did learn a lot of different techniques and ways to be able to talk to and communicate with my kids,” he said. “It also brought me and my wife closer together, having to do these things with you guys, it was honestly great. It was amazing, and it’s something that I wouldn’t have expected to enjoy, but I will continue to use the things I learned and enjoyed all the time with you guys.”

Carrie Clyburn agreed what they learned was helpful because there’s no handout or book that can provide real-life lessons in the way that SFP is designed to do.

“When you become a parent, it’s something that you’ve got to learn on your own, and this program gives you the tools needed for success,” she said. “I wish that this program was longer, honestly, because it gives you so much information, and if you do use it, you can really see the change. I have seen the change in my kids by using the tools given to us.”

Celebrating A Successful Completion in Tough Times

Plummer, who has worked with Growing Home Southeast SFP sites for six years, loved hearing the testimonials from parents during the graduation ceremony. Although it couldn’t be held in-person, she did her best to replicate that experience for the families by making sure all of them had poster boards, decorations, graduation caps, and cake mix to bake for the celebration.

“The virtual graduation went very well,” she said. “I believe allowing the families to have decorations and be creative with the poster board and cake increased their excitement for graduation. The families were engaged and eager to support each other’s accomplishments. Overall, this was one of the most sincere graduations I’ve been a part of.”

Alisha Earle expressed her gratitude to the facilitators, group leaders and other parents during the graduation for what she received from the program. She discussed how she learned something different each week.

“I just want to say thank you to you guys, for helping us with parenting skills, teaching us things that we should be doing, having meetings and spending more time with our kids – things that we didn’t know prior to the program,” Earle said. “You know, me and my daughter are doing more things together, activities and stuff like that. I appreciate giving us the knowledge, something that we can take from this program and apply it to our daily lives.”

It simply took a few extra weeks to get to that point this cycle, something Dukes-Smith pointed out was a first-hand example of showing resilience, one of the program’s key principles.

“SFP has provided families the opportunity to regain a sense of normalcy during one of the most unsettling times,” Dukes-Smith said. “Needless to say, this global pandemic will force us all to rethink and reimagine our path forward.”