Parent Cafes strengthening families in Oakland County

By Brenda Brissette-Mata

In a meeting room at the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Southfield, parents meet to share their concerns about raising children and finding support in their community.

It's called a Parent Café, an initiative started by members of the Oakland County Great Start Collaborative to benefit local parents. And it's spreading.

Donna Lackie, co-coordinator of GSC-Oakland, said the idea is based on a similar model used in Illinois.

"These are informal sessions where parents come together to learn about how to strengthen their family and, also, for social support with other parents," Lackie said.

A key to the success of the cafés is that facilitators often join existing groups of moms and dads at churches, daycares and so on rather than asking people to join a new group where they might not know anyone.

"Our community partners let us know about existing groups and if they have an interest in become a host site, we send a facilitator to them," said Lisa Sturges, a project specialist at the Oakland collaborative.

"That has been key," Lackie said. "We are able to use the expertise of the host sites. They have already engaged the families and the families already trust them."

During a café session, a facilitator talks about five protective factors - resiliency, social connections, knowledge of parenting and child development, concrete support of basic needs and social/emotional competence - that, according to research, strengthens families and promotes optimal child development .

At each meeting, the facilitator hands out a parent resource guide with lists of local programs and resources. Each has a symbol indicating which protective factor it can help with.

"For example, next to a playgroup there is a symbol that lets parents know attending a playgroup helps build social connections," Sturges said.

The meeting also acts as a sort of informal focus group with parents sharing concerns about local and state early childhood services.

"We ask questions, we listen to them talk and we hear about what kind of help (parents) need," Sturges said. "We're looking for their input on the current system and what's missing, what could be improved."

The Parent Cafés held at the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Southfield and the Hispanic Outreach Center in Pontiac have been two of the most successful.

The Hispanic Outreach Center supplies a translator, who helps with the sessions and also has assisted in translating the materials in Spanish.

Lackie said Brenda Jenkins, associate pastor at New Hope, who sits on the Oakland collaborative's parent education sub-committee, has been key in the success of the church's Parent Café.

At New Hope, there is now a parent resource room where parents can go when they need support or to feel connected. The collaborative provides materials for the room, including resource guides and calendars.

"(Parent Café) is really beginning to be embedded in the community as a huge systems change," Lackie said. "The cafés have been embraced by our community partners as well as the parents in the community."

The success hasn't gone unnoticed in the state or the nation. In Michigan, the Oakland County Great Start Collaborative has begun training and working with other collaboratives in Shiawassee and Wayne counties.

The Oakland collaborative has also been invited to present at the national Smart Start Conference in North Carolina, in May.

For more information, go to www.greatstartforkids-oakland.org.

Published: Wed, Feb 2, 2011

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