Children’s Trust and FRIENDS National Resource Center for Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention teamed up to hold a learning and planning event May 2-3 for parents and practitioners. Neil White, who tells the stories of Children’s Trust, covered the activities.
Rosa Contreras absorbed plenty of information at a two-day parent leadership event hosted by Children’s Trust at EdVenture Children’s Museum in early May.
The event brought together seven pairs of practitioners and parents from local organizations to learn about effective partnership and engagement in ways that create opportunities for parents to grow and develop.
Contreras, who attended as a parent with the Parenting Center of Lexington School District 1, already has begun to consider new ideas that can help strengthen her community.
“We’ve been thinking of building a pantry with vegetables so parents can learn how to do healthy cooking,” Contreras said.
Gigi Towers, a parent educator with the Parenting Center of Lexington School District 1 who teamed with Contreras for the sessions, believed the opportunity to learn would become a useful experience for both the organization staff members and the parents being served.
“I was hoping to find new ways and methods for our families, especially our parents, to be more involved, to be more of a part of the community, and the importance for them to do that,” Towers said. “There’s also the involvement in how we can create workshops and how we can create different ways of making them know their voice counts.”
As part of launching a parent engagement project in the Midlands, Children’s Trust was given the unique opportunity to be the pilot organization for the Bridging Effective Parent Practitioner Collaborations (BEPPC) through FRIENDS National Resource Center for Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention (CBCAP), which facilitated the learning and planning event.
“We reached out to select agencies in the Midlands and invited pairs of professionals and parents who want to build skills to empower parents in their work. Rooted in the Protective Factors Framework, professionals and parents learned tools to build parent voice, engage parent involvement and work together to create an actionable plan for parent participation within their organizations,” said Amy Moseley, prevention initiatives manager at Children’s Trust.
“Our next step is to launch a Midlands Parent Advisory Council this summer. This group will continue to work together to inform program practices in the community and create a plan for parent engagement around the protective factors. We are looking forward to this work because we believe that when parents are partners, everyone benefits.”
By developing these leadership skills, parents can stand together for policies that promote strong families and serve as an important voice to help guide their families and communities in a positive direction.
Carolyn Abdullah, the training and technical assistance coordinator for FRIENDS, said the key is getting practitioners and parents building relationships while learning alongside each other in the same room.
“The best way to ensure effective parent partnership is to provide them with some skills and some capacity building, and it’s even better when you can do that with them together,” Abdullah said. “They need to hear from each other and learn how to collaborate. They actually learn what leadership means, what leadership really looks like, and so we’re hoping that at the end of the two days here, they will have developed some skills and will really recognize the benefits of parent-practitioner partnership.”
To reinforce the learning, FRIENDS had participants do pre-work for the sessions in order to attain a certain level of understanding and expectation going into them. Abdullah doesn’t want participants to simply take away a binder and put it on a shelf; she wants to see action steps developed and taken with Children’s Trust monitoring the follow-up.
Many of the activities over the two days were designed to assist organizations in broader areas, such as working one-on-one with families, responding to families in crisis, and engaging and retaining fathers.
Maurice Lindsay serves as the outreach coordinator at the Lexington County site of the Midlands Fatherhood Coalition, which promotes father-friendly policies while delivering father-centered programs that enable men to develop the knowledge, confidence and skills to become responsible fathers and co-parents. He liked what he heard.
“With the information that we gather, we can implement some of these programs into our curriculum,” Lindsay said. “The protective factors, things that we didn’t know about 10 years ago or five years ago, we can incorporate so the young men now can take it back to their homes, back to their families, back to their communities, and it can grow and spread. It’s grassroots, and it’s awesome. We’re going to get everybody onboard with it.”
Gersham Bunnell, a father who accompanied Lindsay, hoped to gain more knowledge that helps him navigate custody issues as well as provide a better life for his two children. Acknowledging that some dads are seen as uninvolved and disengaged, he wants to make sure that he can serve as a primary influence on his kids. The sessions were helpful in that regard.
“As a father myself, and not having a father as my role model, it showed me more of what my children do need and what all fathers need to stand up for their children,” Bunnell said.
Each parent also looked for those skills that will help them within their own families. Contreras wants to emphasize more about Hispanic culture and language to her children because they are more immersed in American culture on a daily basis. Jenny Molano, another parent at the Lexington 1 Parenting Center, wants to learn more about the struggles all parents face and pass along shared information from them that can make a difference in the lives of her kids.
Abdullah called those individual lessons an important component of empowering parents and building new community leaders.
“We need to respect the culture of families. We need to understand their journey and where they are, and we need to hear them tell us what they need,” she said.