Every Tuesday morning, about a dozen adults and 20 children attend classes inside an office building on State Street in Boise that help them learn to navigate life’s challenges and stressors.
The two age-appropriate curriculums mirror each other; when parents are creating household budgets, children are learning about saving money for things they want. The classes culminate in a joint lunch, simulating a family dinner, which is known to have a variety of benefits for families.
This is all part of Family Advocate’s Strengthening Families program. St. Luke’s has been a longtime supporter of Family Advocates. Over the past three years, St. Luke’s has provided grants through its Community Health Improvement Fund program to help Family Advocates build sturdy and resilient families.
“The grant money we get from St. Luke’s helps support the operations of those groups,” said Sarah Leeds, director of family strengthening at Family Advocates. “St. Luke’s support has been foundational to our program.”
Led by executive director Jaime Hansen, Family Advocates has used grant dollars to enhance its family programming. For several years, it featured an open-ended curriculum aimed at teaching new mothers parenting skills. Over the past year, Family Advocates has transformed its approach, implementing a 20-week program that includes measurable goals for both parents and children.
“The change we made is a much more comprehensive family-strengthening program with the ultimate goal of helping reduce childhood abuse and neglect,” Leeds said.
Offered throughout the year in Boise, Caldwell and now Mountain Home, the new program is based on the five ‘protective factors’ from the Center for Study of Social Policy. These factors include parental resilience, social connections, concrete supports, knowledge of parenting and child development, and social and emotional competence of children.
“All of the groups are centered on those five protective factors, and within that we deal with topics like depression, healthy cooking, budgeting, dealing with tantrums,” Leeds said.
Many parents in the program have experienced trauma as children and adults. Known as ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences), these parents have been through a variety of traumatic events, from domestic violence to incarcerated parents.
Left unaddressed, ACEs can have significant, long-term effects on mental and physical health, Leeds said. The new approach to the program is committed to helping adults address those experiences, and it has already paid dividends.
A young mother recently came to Family Advocates with numerous adverse childhood and adulthood experiences, including domestic violence.
“She had a toddler with (her) abuser and then decided she was going to leave and had the resources to get some help and the willingness to decide, ‘I don’t want this in my life anymore,’” Leeds said.
Overwhelmed with her child and traumatic experiences, the woman came to Family Advocates for help.
“(Her child) was at an age where he had seen enough of the violence that he could act out on that,” Leeds said. “She was struggling with both her own trauma reaction to when he would lash out, but also how she would parent him through that in a healthy way.”
Leeds and the staff at Family Advocates helped her through the Strengthening Families program, and connected her to other counseling services.
“We were able to see some really significant, positive changes in both of them in just three and a half months,” Leeds said, noting that the child’s behavior was markedly improved during meal time, when he would previously act out.
“Partly, it was our programming and education that helped her, but also the connections that we gave her, too,” Leeds said.
Family Advocates relies heavily on volunteers to assist its operations. Volunteer opportunities range from rocking a baby for an hour each week to serving as a Court-Appointed Special Advocate for a child.
“The more volunteers that we have that can help us,” Leeds said, “the more we can make a difference in the community together.”
Daniel Mediate works in the St. Luke’s Community Engagement department.