Archived Story

Cass County ‘Strengthening Families’

Published 8:24pm Tuesday, March 27, 2012

CASSOPOLIS — Strengthening Families through small but significant changes means messaging, such as a billboard by McDonald’s and a seven-week poster campaign April 2 through May 14 reminiscent of last year’s Safe Summer with law enforcement.
For agency professionals, the Center for the Study of Social Policy framework presented by Children’s Trust Fund (CTF) Tuesday in the 1899 courthouse Kincheloe room gives multiple disciplines common language to work together more effectively.

The Strengthening Families forum was presented by the Great Start Collaborative.

“Whether you’re making a home visitation to prevent child abuse or for school readiness, you’re building parent resilience, increasing understanding of what good parenting means and making social connections,” said Mike Foley, the executive director for CTF. “This strength-based approach is because the elephant in the room when you think of a protective services worker, they’re connected to a family because something bad happened. We need to flip that around and support families because resources are tight.”
This approach can be integrated into existing programs, strategies, systems and community opportunities and is grounded in research.
Children’s Trust Fund supports child abuse-prevention programs statewide.
Sarah Davis, CTF senior program development coordinator, defined six “protective factors” — conditions that when present, increase health and well-being of children and families. “It’s about creating a new norm for families and taking away stigma we sometimes see with at-risk programs. It does not ignore risk factors, but builds on what’s right.”
Davis identified parental resilience — strength and flexibility, like a rooted palm tree bending in a hurricane; social connections — parents need friends; knowledge of parenting and child development — being a great parent is part natural, part learned; concrete support in times of need — everyone needs help, but some find it hard to ask; nurturing and attachment — to give children needed love, guidance and respect; and children’s social and emotional competence — parents must help them learn to communicate.
The idea families thrive when protective factors are “robust” in their lives and communities “is relatively new to Michigan,” Davis said. “While there are some counties that have been doing it — Leelanau, Oakland, Ottawa — I find exciting it is taking hold organically in communities because they see it’s useful” and not by decree. “That’s why it spoke to me when I first heard about it” three years ago at a conference. “If communities embrace this, then it’s what we can do at the state level to support you.”
Pam Swaim, Great Start coordinator for Lewis Cass Intermediate School District, said, “We hear from parents of a lack of things to do with their children in a rural economy,” travel hobbled by the economy and gas prices which vaulted March 27 from $3.99 to $4.15.
“This is not ‘another program,’ but rather how you look at work you’re doing. We’re highlighting Strengthening Families at the (ninth annual) Parent Expo April 17. As we become more familiar with it, sharing it will be second nature.”
United Way of Southwest Michigan, Midwest Energy Cooperative and the McLoughlin Foundation lent financial support.
Davis said Leelanau County sponsors “laundry days,” where parents wash their clothes for free while getting a break and interacting with other parents as children play under supervision. Providers are available to help connect needs with available services.
With grandparents raising children, “parents” often span generations and a myriad of experiences. While the Department of Human Services moves services online, older adults may lack a computer or technology agility to respond to a direction to surf a website to access resource information.
Davis said in 2001 the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation approached the Center for the Study of Social Policy, a Washington, D.C., think tank, to find a more effective way to prevent child abuse and neglect.
After reviewing literature for a year and laying ground work, a national network launched in 2005.

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