The overall goal of the Prevention Initiative is to effect a population-level change in the rates of child abuse and neglect through a place-based, multiservice approach to support and strengthen families in Massachusetts. Its long-term goal is to raise the prevention of child maltreatment to be one of our top social, public, legislative, and community priorities across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Through the Prevention Initiative, the Children’s Trust plans to shift the work of child welfare from an interventionist focus on family deficits to a proactive, strengths-based approach that builds on family assets and resiliency, and helps families get into the support structures they need to thrive. It is our hope that the Prevention Initiative will serve as a catalyst for change and as an effective model for states across the nation.
The project’s design and implementation includes home visiting, family resource centers, parenting education, training child serving agencies in the prevention of child sexual abuse and conducting research to obtain a thorough understanding of each target community’s needs, strengths, priorities, and existing service structures. It also includes a strong parent voice in identifying their needs as parents, the needs of their children, and the needs in their community as pertaining to the wellbeing of families.
Healthy Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) of children is a key outcome of the project. All program sites will conduct specific SEL activities. We will partner with parents to create positive, healthy environments for children. Parents will build care giving skills through groups and individual support. They will also gain knowledge of healthy emotional child development, and connect to other parents and providers in their communities.
The project’s initial approach will take place in 10 target community sites in identified Massachusetts towns or cities. This effort will enable us to respond to the needs of families in these targeted sites and provide the outcomes needed for the well-being of children and the strength and stability of families. The Prevention Initiative’s targeted community sites will utilize a Children’s Trust Family Center as a hub for the community. The Family Centers will provide a standard menu of evidence-based and evidence-informed core services universally available to all families.
The Prevention Initiative will establish Prevention Communities in Massachusetts which will:
- include Family Centers as hubs to provide, coordinate, and access a standard menu of core services including home visiting, parenting education, and support for fathers, as well as connections to locally prioritized services for families in defined geographic communities such as transportation, health care, housing, domestic violence, mental health, and substance abuse treatment
- incorporate proven service frameworks and evidenced-based services, along with local fidelity to the statewide initiative
- provide resources for and support parent partnership and leadership, convening of a Statewide Advisory Committee, and local governance of Family Centers
- deliver the organizational change, program development, staff training, and data collection/analysis required to protect and promote strong children, families, and communities
- through in-depth evaluation will identify increased strength and resilience of parents, increased positive outcomes for children, decreased risky behavior by parents, and decreased frequency of child maltreatment in communities served by the Prevention Initiative
The Prevention Initiative rests on two frameworks which are widely accepted across the country:
The Strengthening Families Framework is broadly recognized, evidence-based and shifts the work of child welfare from a focus on family deficits to a focus on building family strengths and resiliency while acknowledging the very real challenges faced. Five key factors support the optimal well-being of children (from birth to 8) and their families:
- Parental resilience: developing the ability to cope and bounce back from challenges;
- Knowledge of parenting and child development: receiving accurate information about raising young children and learning appropriate and effective strategies to gauge expectations and set limits on child behaviors;
- Social connections: engaging friends, family, neighbors, and others in the community to provide emotional and logistical support and assistance in meeting basic needs;
- Social and emotional development of children: fostering a child’s ability to interact positively with others and to communicate emotions appropriately;
- Concrete support in times of need: accessing life essentials such as food, clothing, and housing when there is immediate need.
The Standards of Quality for Family Strengthening and Support are based on the premise that the primary responsibility for the development and well-being of children lies within the family, and that all segments of society must support families as they raise children. There are five sections of standards for effective Family Centers:
- Family Centeredness: valuing and recognizing families as integral to each program;
- Family Strengthening: supporting families to be strong, healthy, and safe, thereby promoting a child’s optimal development;
- Embracing Diversity: supporting all families’ participation in a diverse society, as well as engaging in ongoing learning and adaptation to diversity;
- Community Building: facilitating families; social connections, developing parents’ their leadership skills, and collaborating with other programs;
- Evaluation: looking at program strengths, as well as areas for further development, to guide continuous quality improvement and achieve positive results for families.
Home Visiting for Young First-Time Parents:
The Children’s Trust Healthy Families Massachusetts (HFM), a nationally-accredited statewide family support and coaching program for first-time parents, will be an integral part of the Prevention Initiative for young parents with newborns especially those without a support system in place. Through this program parents are matched with trained professions who meet with them regularly in their home to provide guidance starting in pregnancy, and as needed, through the child’s third birthday.
A rigorous randomized control trial evaluation by Tufts University showed that the HFM program is successfully:
- lowering parents’ risky behaviors, which likely reduces children’s exposure to traumatic events
- lowering participants’ parenting stress, a risk factor for child abuse and neglect
- promoting better health outcomes for the most vulnerable moms and babies
- promoting co-parenting relationships that actively involve fathers
- significantly increasing educational achievement, paving the way toward self-sufficiency
- reducing the use of corporal punishment among parents who had more traumatic events in their past
The Pew Charitable Trusts describes data collection and analysis by the Children’s Trust’s HFM program as a model for home visiting programs nationwide. According to PEW, the Children’s Trust “pioneered an innovation in evidence-based home visiting when it began building the data collection and analysis capacity to both monitor the delivery of home visiting services and track whether those services were contributing to healthier, more secure families.”
Parent Partnership and Leadership:
Parent partnership and leadership will be encouraged and fostered through the Family Centers. Parent will be given the opportunity for personal growth, to gain the knowledge and skills to function in leadership roles and represent a “parent voice” to help shape the direction of their family, programs and communities. Parents and caregivers are the experts on whether or not the programs and activities are meeting their needs and are delivered in a culturally appropriate manner. Opportunities will be provided for parents to become involved in ways that meet their comfort levels including volunteering their time at the FC, helping to distribute outreach material to other families, facilitating workshops, and eventually taking leadership positions in developing and implementing Parent Cafés where parents share their ideas and suggestions on how the FCs can provide stronger services to families, and serving on committees and/or boards at the FC and within their communities.
Our universal approach will offer all families with young children, living in the target communities, a one-time home visit to ascertain their needs, challenges, and interests, and connect them with the Family Center (FC) in their community as well as provide referrals as needed. All first-time parents under 30 years of age will be given the option to enroll in our Healthy Families home visiting program for newborns which, depending on their need, could continue until their child is three years of age. Using successful outreach strategies, the FC will work to keep the family engaged and aware of the offerings available to them such as: resource and referrals to existing community agencies (see model attachment), clothing/toy exchange, parenting workshops and educational series, parent-child activities and family fun events.
Parent and Community Cafés will be used to assess the level to which the “five protective factors” in both the family and the larger community are robust, and to help assess community and family needs. A Community Governance Board (consisting of parents, physicians, and representatives from local schools, business and agencies) will also be established to work with the program staff to determine what program offerings are most suited to families in their community.
The Children’s Trust will ensure that evidenced-based or best practice models are then made available for implementation with the community. Our 25 years of successful experience in working with communities to implement home visiting, parenting education and support models will be utilized to ensure that the models chosen and their implementation will be supported through training, technical assistance, data collection and evaluation.
Finally drawing on our experience in working with child serving institutions in the prevention of child sexual abuse through screening, codes of conduct, safe environments and training for staff, parents and children, the Prevention Initiative will work with the Community Governance Board, schools and community based child serving agencies to provide the training and technical assistance required to implement a broad awareness of child abuse prevention.
The Prevention Initiative will bring all of the evidenced based or informed strategies that prevent child abuse and thereby help ensure that children are raised in healthy and safe homes. We believe that by partnering with community leaders and parents we can bring the resources and support needed to dramatically decrease child maltreatment and foster the healthy social and emotional development of children in each Prevention Community.
Through a collaboration with Tufts University, a preliminary assessment of the effectiveness of the innovative model in selected sites will be conducted to evaluate program success, determine areas for improvement, and to inform development of an enhanced intervention.