“It was very empowering and supporting.”
“I felt like some weight was lifted off me to hear that others have similar problems.”
“I felt encouraged.”
“I feel more aware of my children’s needs.”
These are all statements from parents who attended a Parent Café of Greater Milwaukee two years ago that was presented in collaboration with the Milwaukee Child Welfare Partnership and a number of other agencies. SaintA successfully hosted, and I facilitated, three of the Cafés. The agency is bringing them back this fall, on an ongoing basis, for parents or caregivers involved in any SaintA program area.
What are Parent Café’s? They’re an innovative yet simple method of bringing parents together to have peer-facilitated conversations about questions that matter, with the goal of strengthening families. Ideally, they are meant to be one part of an overall approach to parent engagement, and a strengths-based commitment to parents.
Parent Cafés were developed by Strengthening Families through Early Care and Education Illinois in 2007 as a way to build protective factors that prevent abuse and neglect and mitigate trauma, in a manner that really engages parents. The protective factors, based on research from the Center for the Study of Social Policy, include: parental resilience (be strong and flexible); social connections (parents need friends); knowledge of parenting and child development (being a great parents is part natural and part learned); concrete support in times of need (we all need help sometimes); social and emotional competence of children (parents need to help their children communicate); and healthy parent-child relationships (give your children the love and respect they need).
Parent Cafés provide support and education in a structured peer-learning format that is also relaxing and fun. When parents attend a Café, they can expect to be warmly engaged by trained parent “table hosts” and to share a free meal with other parents while their children enjoy a positive child care experience. After the meal, the “meat” of the Café’s happens, with a 1:1 connection with another participant, and then three 20-minute facilitated small-group conversations. The conversations are focused on exploring specific questions related to the protective factors and themes of the Café. For example: “How do you make sure each of your children feels special?” or “How do you discipline a child without being angry and still keep the relationship strong?”
Cafés are meant to occur in threes, with the themes being: Taking care of yourself, being a strong parent and building strong relationships with your children. Parents do not have to attend all three, but all six of the protective factors will be built upon on if they do.
Having facilitated more than a dozen Parent Café’s, I can truly say that I’ve gotten as much out of them as have the participants. As a parent, it feels good to not only support others but also to receive support and get new ideas. All parents need camaraderie and new tools in our toolboxes: even we social worker-types!
Another really wonderful thing about Parent Café’s is the diversity. It’s powerful to hear people, time after time, share the realization that they had so much in common with someone who they, upon first glance, assumed was so different. That’s the magic of the Café’s. Connections are built, hearts are opened, and we leave feeling a little lighter. At the end of the Café’s, parents have described feeling: great, refreshed, positive, proud, thankful, excited, validated, challenged, and enlightened. All of this is why, despite a new job with MPS, I will be coming back to volunteer at the SaintA Parent Café’s.
So, for SaintA caregivers/foster parents: We will host three Café’s this fall:
- Thursday, Oct. 8, 5:30-8 p.m. (time is tentative)
- Thursday, Nov. 5, 5:30-8 p.m.
- Thursday, Dec. 3, 5:30-8 p.m.
Contact Family Services Director Sonja Kania with any questions at (414) 465-1358, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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