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By Nurturing Parents, Family Service Agency Aims to End Cycle of Crisis for Families It Touches

Through leadership lessons, vital support and case management, positive parenting emerges as a life-changing force

Dori and Chris Carter have played a vital role in the success of the Family Service Agency’s Nurturing Parenting Program and its effect on early childhood development. “If you don’t have the tools to deal with problems, it becomes a problem,” Dori Carter says. “You can’t learn if your home life isn’t stable.” Click to view larger
Dori and Chris Carter have played a vital role in the success of the Family Service Agency’s Nurturing Parenting Program and its effect on early childhood development. “If you don’t have the tools to deal with problems, it becomes a problem,” Dori Carter says. “You can’t learn if your home life isn’t stable.” (Melissa Walker / Noozhawk photo)

[Noozhawk’s note: This article is the third in a series sponsored by the Hutton Parker Foundation. Click here for the first article and click here for the second.]

Quality education is critical in the early years of a child’s development. By providing a supportive environment for learning, children are healthier and do better in school, which in turn paves the way for parenting and career success as adults.

Meanwhile, parent engagement and participation in a child’s academic experience can counter the negative effects of low self-esteem and poor school performance. Such involvement can even help stave off depression, juvenile delinquency and mental illness.

Since 2013, the Family Service Agency’s Nurturing Parenting Program has been playing an integral role in creating positive conditions for both parents and children.

The 14-week program uses an evidence-based curriculum to enhance confidence, competence and assertiveness for parents, which results in an enriching and uplifting atmosphere for their children. 

“We’re able to create in so many ways leadership opportunities for our parents and really watch them through this whole process,” explained Lisa Brabo Ph.D., executive director of the Family Service Agency.

Lessons for both children and parents are designed to strengthen five constructs:

» Appropriate expectations of children

» Developing empathy in parents and children

» Discipline with dignity

» Self-awareness and appropriate family roles

» Empowerment and independence

But the Nurturing Parenting Program offers more that just parent education. It also provides vital support for situations of need.

Activities and education to enhance positive parenting skills are featured in classes structured to increase connections and promote positive brain development in children. The lessons comprise developmental milestones, family values, routines, discipline, empathy and attachment, self-care, conflict resolution and family violence.

“Those needing more support are identified and offered case management so we can attend their other needs — support finding child care, budgeting, access to basic needs, etc.,” said Ashleigh Erving, program manager of FSA’s Family Support Services.

“If children are not receiving adequate food or sleep, the best early childhood education program available will have limited results.”

Erving shared an example of a single mother of three young children who, after leaving her spouse because of domestic violence, found assistance through a coordinated system of case-management services. She said the resources helped the woman move “from a state of crisis to achieving stability and self-sufficiency.”

“When she first walked through our doors, it was clear she was disempowered,” Erving said. “Her head hung low and she struggled to sustain eye contact.”

Once the immediate, basic needs of safe and stable housing with financial resources were met, the woman was encouraged to enroll in FSA’s series of parenting classes.

“Over time as she walked through our center, it was clear that she was gaining confidence and competence while establishing assertiveness and advocacy skills,” Erving said. “She was empowered.”

The woman graduated from FSA’s classes last year, then sought additional training to pursue leadership opportunities promoting the Protective Factors Framework in the Lompoc area. She also enrolled in English classes to advance her career and become a role model for her children and other parents in the community.

“With her newly acquired confidence she is volunteering at her kids’ school, and feeling more connected,” Erving said. “Her family is stable and her children are thriving.”

FSA’s long-term goals are to prevent recidivism in families receiving social services by trying to lower the rate of multiparent teenage pregnancies, juvenile delinquency, and alcohol and drug abuse, as well as stopping the intergenerational cycle of child abuse.

“There’s plenty of research that shows that parent education is one way — and as a matter of fact a very cost-effective way — to reduce the cyclical nature of poverty,” Brabo said.

FSA receives client referrals from a wide network of collaborators, attorneys, Child Welfare Services and other sources. Last summer, the agency began its Welcome Every Baby (WEB) program.

A robust number of calls and requests for the Nurturing Parenting Program allow FSA to schedule courses at times to ensure that a majority is serviced during each session. Bilingual classes are offered, as well. So far in the current 14-week session, three classes have been offered in English and seven others in Spanish.

Instrumental to the success of the Nurturing Parenting Program has been the support of Dori and Chris Carter, who were interested in something with a focus on early childhood education.

“If you don’t have the tools to deal with problems, it becomes a problem,” Dori Carter said. “You can’t learn if your home life isn’t stable.”

The Carters were influenced by the enthusiasm of another strong FSA supporter, Shirley Ann Hurley.

Hurley “was always talking about Family Service Agency and that they served people that other people didn’t serve,” Dori Carter recalled.

Founded in 1899, the Family Service Agency strives to strengthen families and individuals of all ages and ethnicities. FSA has locations in Carpinteria, Lompoc, Santa Barbara and Santa Maria, ensuring convenient access to food, shelter and other basic needs.

The programs and education from FSA are aimed at assisting and promoting prevention, and can be instrumental in change and healthy communities.

FSA’s Nurturing Parenting Program success is measured through the AAPI-2 (Adult Adolescent Parenting Inventory-Version 2), which assesses the parenting and child-rearing attitudes of clients and allows staff to develop services targeted to each client’s specific risk factors, based on prevention and research.

The environment of communication, discipline and support of family upbringing in combination with natural predisposition and character can significantly guide the direction of a child’s life.

“Character is something that you get at home,” said Chris Carter, a producer and screenwriter of The X-Files fame. “It’s instilled in you through your values, through your parents’ love for you, your parents’ care for you, and the way your parents are examples for you.”

On behalf of FSA, Brabo expressed gratitude for the Carters’ support for these important family services.

“It means the world to us to have the Carters to support these really important efforts with parents and kids,” she said.

“We could get some public money from government agencies, but it’s never enough and it … oftentimes doesn’t go far enough to really reach the families and the ways that they really need to be reached.

“What they’ve provided has made a lot of difference for a lot of parents.”

F.Y.I.

The Family Service Agency is hosting an inaugural Cooking Up Dreams party from 6:30 to 10 p.m. May 15 at Montecito Country Club. The benefit for at-risk youth served by Big Brothers Big Sisters and the FSA, will feature food and wine from leading local chefs, restaurants and vintners.

Click here for more information about Cooking Up Dreams. Click here to purchase tickets.

Noozhawk contributing writer Melissa Walker can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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