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Milestones & Learning from Parent Support Groups Project

March 23, 2016


by Nancy Watson

​I enjoyed participating in the Peer Support Groups for Parents (aka Parent Support Circles) Roundtable on August 13, 2015. The purpose of the Roundtable meeting was to bring together the agencies and parents responsible for organizing and facilitating the parent support groups to share where the groups have been implemented, who the groups have served and what the agencies and parents have learned since the project began in FY

A story shared by a parent facilitator in the East San Gabriel area, demonstrated how the support groups have helped parents:

In one of my groups, a mother and father were required to participate by DCFS. At first the mom didn’t participate a lot, but as the group went along, she began to open up.
After the parents completed the group, the DCFS case was closed.

Funded by First 5 LA, the project goals are for parents to learn about their child’s development, increase social connectedness, and obtain available community resources. The
contractor Children’s Institute partners with five community-based organizations, to implement 100 support groups across the 2.5 year project which ends in June 2016. Since 2014, the project has implemented over 60 parent support groups communities across
LA County including Best Start Communities of Metro, Pacoima, Panorama City & Neighbors, and El Monte/South El Monte.

A quick snapshot of the support groups was provided by Evelyn Wang, a senior researcher at Children’s Institute:

A total of 414 parents participated from January-July 2015. The vast majority of participants were female, but 62 participants or about 14% were male.

The most frequent type of groups were Self Care and Special Needs followed by New Baby. A small number of groups also focused on Men and Teen and Foster Parents.

Parents were referred primarily from the five project’s community-based organizations and their partners, followed by hospitals/Welcome Baby, and Best Start Communities Partnerships.

Groups typically last 1 to 2 hours each, are held either weekly or bi-weekly, and are located at community-based organizations or other accessible locations such as community centers and public housing. Two parents facilitate each group. All facilitators receive an intensive 3-day training before they get started, and ongoing supervision from Children’s Institute and the CBO partners.

A total of 80 parents have been trained to facilitate the groups including several from Best Start Communities. The panel of 6 parent facilitators described how the groups operate
and work to support parents:

Parent participants play an essential role in what gets discussed by sharing their parenting experiences and resources with one another.

During the course of the group, parents establish strong connections, and some parents stay in contact between meetings or after the group has ended.

The parent facilitators also shared how they got involved with the project and what they’ve learned. All on the panel described feeling very rewarded in being able to help other
parents. For example:

Guie, a parent facilitator who works with Family Focus Family Resource Center and was recruited by the Child Care Resource Center, stated it’s important to bring together parents to establish social connections face-to face. She wishes these types of group had been available when her son was first diagnosed with autism as she felt “so alone” and lacked support from her family.

Jennifer, a mother of 3 children who was recruited at a Best Start Partnership meeting and has facilitated several groups, proudly described how she has improved her communication
skills and ability to relate to others.

The community-based organizations who have worked with the parent facilitators to implement the groups described ways the project has increased their support to families and has led to new partnerships including:

Providing support groups in the communities where families live instead of families having to travel long distances to their agency

Some agencies expanded services to more parents by offering groups to any parent with 0-5 child in need of support in addition to parents of children with special needs.

Two CBO’s started participating in their local Best Start Community Partnerships.

Finally, the CBO’s talked about sustainability of the Parent Support Circles. When the CBO’s first started outreaching to other organizations about being involved, they asked for a commitment to recruit parents to facilitate as well as to host a group(s) to ensure understanding of and build support for the parent support group model. Some of the CBO’s have already sustained some of the support groups with their own and/or their partners’ resources, and CBO’s are continuing to build upon current, and if needed establishing additional partnerships, to implement the final groups. Also, through the Train the Trainer process, CBO’s and their partners will learn how to train additional parents to facilitate the groups in order to sustain current groups and/or create new groups in the future.

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