Community-based parent education and support systems enhance parents' knowledge of ways that they can support the development of their children. Through a focus on family management, problem-solving skills, and referrals to other needed services, families whose children are at risk can help those youth avoid future problems with delinquency.
Community Problem Addressed
Lack of family management and communication skills can make effective parenting difficult. Communities that assist parents by providing education and training in communication skills, and counseling services help those families transfer skills to their children, possibly preventing delinquency and family violence.
Local programs that adopt this strategy typically deliver a comprehensive array of services, including parent-education classes in child development, skill building and education enhancement programs for children, communication and family management training, and counseling.
The most effective community programs using this strategy work in partnership with a variety of social service agencies, including community-based, municipal, and county agencies, to design programs and coordinate services for families. The program provider also works with community groups to publicize the services and recruit families into the program, using community newspapers and newsletters to advertise support available to families. The programs are sometimes based in neighborhood centers in economically deprived communities with crime problems related to family violence and delinquency.
The community organizations that deliver the services are often funded by a combination of local government, community foundations, and corporate resources.
Recruiting families into the programs can be difficult since those with serious management problems and service needs are sometimes reluctant to seek assistance.
Many parents may resist the idea of others telling them how to raise their children.
Community-based newspapers, newsletters, public events, or schools can disseminate information to educate parents about how services could be helpful to them. Another challenge for program organizers is encouraging parents to take a hands-on role in designing effective programs.
Examples of Success and Results
West Richland [population 7,000], is a small upper-middle class community in the south central part of Washington. In 1997, the police department formed a citizens' advisory committee that helps the department gauge the concerns of residents in order to help community policing efforts. The committee found, through informal neighborhood surveys and conversations, that one of the biggest concerns for most working parents was proper parenting skills and communicating with teenagers.
Professionals in this community have a history of offering their services on a pro bono basis, and a number of area psychologists and social workers volunteered their time to offer parenting workshops to residents. These workshops have covered issues such as diffusing power struggles between parents and youth and drug abuse education for parents. Caseworkers who specialize in family disputes and county prosecutors have presented on such legal issues as spanking and divorce. The local schools send students home with fliers with information about the workshops (printed by the police department at no cost), while the local paper and cable station publicize the workshops also at no cost.
The program's workshops are held in the town's community center, a free resource to residents. In partnership with the Drew Bledsoe Foundation (ex-resident of Washington and current quarterback for the New England Patriots), the advisory committee uses the video tapes of the foundation's Parenting with Dignity program, which stresses communication between parents and children and shows parents how to teach and model respectful behavior to their children. Surveys of participants reveal that a majority of the workshop participants feel more comfortable disciplining their children without anger, more willing to open the lines of communication with their teenagers, and do recommend the workshops to other community members with children. Participation has more than doubled since the first workshop and currently stands at 60 participants per workshop, which are held four times a year. The advisory committee has received recognition from the mayor for its efforts.