Students at Grove Elementary in the Upstate planted a pinwheel garden April 24 to show their support for Child Abuse Prevention Month. Neil White, who tells the stories of Children’s Trust, covered the event.
As a student support specialist at Grove Elementary in Piedmont, Alexandria Byrd looks out for all of her students.
“We want every kid to be happy, healthy, and having a great time in life,” she said. “That’s the important thing.”
That message was never truer than on a sunny day in late April, when children from the after-school program gathered in front of the Grove entrance to plant pinwheels in honor of Child Abuse Prevention Month. Pinwheels are the national symbol for great childhoods.
Children’s Trust, the South Carolina affiliate for Prevent Child Abuse America, coordinates activities like this one across the state to raise awareness about what families, child-serving organizations, schools, civic leaders, government agencies, faith-based organizations, and businesses can do to prevent child abuse and neglect in their communities.
Children’s Trust utilizes evidence-based programs like the Strengthening Families Program (SFP), Triple P (Positive Parenting Program) and home visiting models like Nurse-Family Partnership, Parents as Teachers and Healthy Families America to connect families with tools and resources that can help children thrive.
Grove Elementary serves as a site for SFP, a 14-session program that works closely with families with children ages 6 to 11 to develop positive discipline practices, stay resilient in tough times, reduce conflict, improve parent-child communications skills, and assist children with social skills, relationships, and school performance. All of these factors play an important role in keeping families strong while protecting against potential child abuse or neglect.
Children’s Trust oversees SFP in 27 counties with local partners such as Communities In Schools (CIS) in the Greenville area. Lillian Garcia, Children’s Trust SFP coordinator in the Upstate, joined Byrd and Amy Clifton Keely, CIS director of training and technical assistance, at the pinwheel planting. The current SFP cycle this spring at Grove Elementary is serving 12 Hispanic families.
“It’s really important to bring awareness to our communities that early childhood interventions create stronger relationships,” Garcia said. “We’ve seen it over and over where children are better behaved and have better communications with parents. The Strengthening Families Program brings that to a family. By showing them how it’s done and providing the skills and the coaching and the support from an amazing program – where it also can be part of the school system – there’s a great opportunity to bring these families and children together for their benefit and also the community’s benefit.”
Keely noted that CIS seeks to provide support to children and families in a variety of ways that include a safe place to be at the end of the school day, where they can learn social-emotional skills and get homework done in a quiet environment. Those things can lead to less stress at home. SFP is an extension of that concept.
“Communities In Schools really values helping parents feel like they have an ally, such as people at the school and people in the community that they can turn to as a support system to help them in the challenging roles of parenting their kids,” Keely said. “The Strengthening Families Program is just such a natural way to help families enjoy being together to learn how to have fun together just like the pinwheels represent. Parents learn better skills they can use with their kids that are more positive and more productive.”
As the children happily planted the pinwheel gardens, they were guided by Byrd and Children’s Trust board member Edward Anderson, the principal at Greenville’s Tanglewood Middle School, which receives students from Grove Elementary.
Byrd also assists in the two-hour SFP sessions, which include a family meal, separate classes for the parents and children, and a group gathering at the end of the evening. She believes children also can gain a better understanding of normal family relationships through the program’s weekly lessons taught by the group leaders, who can provide an additional layer of support for them.
“I feel like it’s so important that they know if they are not being treated nicely, or if they are feeling upset about something, they have trusted adults that they can come to,” Byrd said. “They have people who love them that aren’t their parents that they can come and talk to.”
Diana Kerley, a parent involvement coordinator at Grove Elementary and a group leader for SFP at the school, loves that the program works closely with the parents and the kids at the same time, which facilitates the learning process for both groups. She believes that cohesion of the weekly sessions allows them to gain a better understanding of how to build a stronger family unit when the time comes to put the lessons into action at home.
The work being done each week in SFP meshes perfectly with the messaging during Child Abuse Prevention Month, when the focus is on prevention strategies and resources that organizations and communities can use to protect children and strengthen families.
“We’re giving the parents the tools to talk about the issues, but we’re also giving the tools to the kids to ask the questions that they need to be asking,” Kerley said. “That’s the beauty of the program and why I love it so much. You see the response, and week after week after week, we see the progress the in the families.”