He did not want to do this. Not even a little. In fact, when Ken and his family were recommended to participate in a Family Nurturing Program by their DCF Patch social worker, he was angry about it. This idea of child nurturing was not something that was done in his country. Children were raised to do what they were told to do. Period. Even after the benefits of attending the program with his wife and children were clearly explained by FNC’s Sue Parker, who would be the facilitator of the Parent Group, Ken simply said that his work came first, and he flat out refused to even consider changing his schedule to attend.
Eventually, somehow Ken’s family convinced him to attend the first night of the Nurturing Program, and reluctantly, he agreed.
At the first session, Ken didn’t hesitate to talk about how frustrated he was about it all. In the discussions, he made it clear he was raised in a country where he was taught at an early age to be tough and that children should simply do what they are told. At the end of the first night, Sue thanked Ken for coming and encouraged him to come back the next week. She did not know what to expect, but she was hopeful.
When week 2 came, surprisingly, so did Ken. Though he was welcomed to the class, his hardened expression was a sign things might not go well. The discussion that night was on morals and values, and during the discussion, Ken adamantly took the stance that the moral standards of the culture he was raised in were right. He was convinced that as the man, he had power over his family, and there was no place for negotiation.
But Ken kept attending the weekly sessions, and as the weeks went on, there were activities and discussions on improving self-worth, communication and empathy. Slowly, Ken’s tone and opinions began to soften. His facial expressions were more inviting, and he would show up consistently and on time with his children, even if his wife was absent. He began smiling and engaging more with the group. Imagine the stunned reaction of the group when he participated in making a hat to demonstrate the use of personal power. He declared to the class, “I can see now how my actions could be interpreted as a negative use of my personal power.”
Ken kept up his perfect attendance record and told Sue he was getting a lot from the group. On graduation night, he said he wanted to keep in touch and that he was going to miss the weekly sessions. He went over to other parents, telling them to hold strong and never give up. He particularly reached out to a single mom with three children who often shared her challenges, to let her know that she was doing a great job and that she should remember that “we learn when the going gets tough”.
Best of all, Ken’s empathy for and approach with his own children and family had taken a dramatic turn for the better. His case with DCF was closed.
It was yet one more positive outcome of many we have seen through our Family Nurturing Programs and Nurturing Fathers’ Programs. Congratulations, Ken!
It was a slow beginning.
Eric, a timid 2-year-old, started to attend the weekly Charlesview Playgroup with his grandmother. Neither of the two could communicate verbally with the Playgroup leader, Elayne, as they both spoke only Cantonese. Eric was so resistant at first to joining the group, he had to be carried in and held by his grandmother during the first few sessions. However, there was a second room with trucks and trains for the children to play with, and as long he knew his grandmother was right there with him, Eric would sometimes go and play a bit in there.
But for the rest of the program Eric showed little interest. During “circle time”, when Elayne would read stories and lead games with the other children and parents in the group, it was typical for Eric to pull at his grandmother to leave. But after a few sessions, he started to sit in a chair in the corner at circle time and listen to the songs. Then, after a full 3 months, even though he still didn’t fully understood the words being sung, Eric started to participate.
Soon he was moving between the two rooms comfortably and fully participating in every area of both spaces. One day, when Eric and his grandmother came early so she could help move chairs to set up for the Playgroup, Eric independently walked across the hall and began to play in the room with the trucks and train set on his own. His grandmother watched in a moment of deep satisfaction and pride as Eric began playing with his back to her, paying her no attention.
During June, before indoor Playgroups turned to Playgroups in the Park, Elayne suggested that Eric might be eligible for Head Start, and that his mother should consider registering him. His grandmother took the necessary paperwork and phone numbers home with her, and Eric was soon accepted to Head Start, where he’ll continue to prepare for kindergarten.
This is the kind of success story we often see in our Parent-Child Playgroups. Parents, grandparents, and other caregivers can participate with their children at their level of comfort. Spaces and staff members are welcoming and inviting to all families, no matter their background. Every child can explore and engage at their own pace and gradually (or quickly) get used to following instructions from another adult, trying new things, participating in a group, transitioning from one area to another, and playing alongside other children – all important school readiness and social-emotional skills children will need when they enter a formal classroom setting.
We can’t wait to hear about Eric once school starts.
Jorge was not quite three years old yet. One thing was clear, though – he didn’t like books. He wanted nothing to do with them. If you gave Jorge a book, he would take it and throw it right back at you. While he was an active little boy, his parents were not regularly reading to him, so he never fell in love with books. He would not even look at them on his own. As a result, Jorge’s parents were concerned his language skills weren’t where they should be for a child of his age.
The truth was that Jorge could not even put a simple sentence together – an issue not helped by the fact that he was by far the youngest in the family (his two siblings are in their early teens) and would often let others do his talking for him.
When Adelaida, a ParentChild+ (formerly the Parent-Child Home Program) Early Learning Specialist, began bi-weekly visits with the family, she first encouraged Jorge’s Mom to read to him. She also encouraged her to read on her own, something she was not doing. Adelaida told her, “What he sees in you, he will start mimicking.” The family was also referred to Early Intervention to screen Jorge and identify any areas where he could benefit from extra support.
As of this writing, after many weeks of visits and a great deal of regular encouragement, Jorge is no longer throwing books. Instead, he is asking to be read to, and can often be found sitting and waiting for a story.
Jorge’s former two-word sentences have also expanded. His Mom is amazed and happy, but mostly very grateful.
Shaping the early growth of any child is about knowledge, love, and diligence. It is also about support, connection, and community – because none of us can do it alone.
Brenna has been involved in social work for a while now and has worked in multiple Nurturing Programs. It’s something she feels she was born to do. She would tell you that “social work chose me”, mostly for the fact that as one of 7 children, she watched her mother’s great desire to help others, continually reaching out to kids who were struggling.
“My uncle works for the Department of Children and Families (DCF), I really like people, and I’ve always had this drive to want to make a difference,” she says.
Brenna’s path to Family Nurturing Center started in 2004 at the Dimock Street DCF Office. After a 3-day facilitator training with FNC, she joined with other social workers on a facilitator team in a Birth, Foster and Kinship Family Nurturing Program. She was also a hotline foster parent for six years, taking many children into her home short-term.
Brenna loves working with children’s groups within Family Nurturing Programs and considers it a special experience. When she sees how excited the kids can get and how eager they are to learn, it warms her heart. She will also tell you that a successful program is built largely around the concept of taking care of oneself and one’s family members. “It’s all about focusing on how to care for each other”, she says. “There’s not a magical potion to make this work. It’s about connecting, loving, and listening.”
Brenna says that a social worker’s job can be very difficult, disappointing, and frustrating. “There’s something to be said about coming to a program one night per week that’s all about nurturing – about what we can do today. It helps me hold onto hope. It’s rejuvenating.”
Working with the Nurturing Program has also helped her as a parent. She says, “If I’m teaching it, I’m applying it, and the core values of togetherness, connection, and patience. I’m always thinking about how it applies to my own life”.
But the greatest reward is what she sees with those who participate in the program. She feels like sometimes social workers think they know what is going to happen, and they don’t expect actual transformation, but “there is an evolution for each parent,” she says, “that gets people thinking about things in ways they haven’t before.” The Nurturing Program not only helps participants by offering useful tactics and valuable information, but by helping those in the program let go of anger and sadness, and instead be truly present in their families’ lives.
Brenna says, “What I see happen in Nurturing Programs I don’t think I’ve seen occur in any other services. This is the one place I know of where all of us can authentically say that we are parents, we love our children, and we want to know all ways possible to help take care of them better.”
You’ve said it all, Brenna. Thank you for working with us to support families.