These times of great uncertainty and anxiety remind us how vital it is to support families at all levels of the continuum, from prevention to early intervention and all the way to the deepest end of the service array.
Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota keenly recognized this need for extra parenting/family support when we had unprecedented flooding in 1997 across the Red River Valley, but especially in the Grand Forks/East Grand Forks communities. At that time, flood preparations were made to protect the cities from a 49-foot flood crest; the actual flood crested at 54.33 feet. The river overran temporary dikes. The cities were evacuated. On that same day, a fire broke out in downtown Grand Forks that destroyed 11 buildings, including one entire block. As officials began to slowly allow people back into the driest areas of town to visit their homes and begin the cleanup process, it became apparent the months ahead would be some of the most difficult times people would face – forcing us all to look to how we could weather the worst of times and help build resilience.
Within this context, LSSND began to reach out to other community partners to urge consideration of how we could do our best to prevent child abuse and neglect. Our organization was intensely involved in the disaster recovery efforts, which included directing the FEMA-funded crisis-counseling response to the disaster as well as coordinating case management, clean-up and rebuilding efforts through Lutheran Disaster Response. We saw the everyday stressors and knew that in these times, one of our most vulnerable populations were young children. As their parents faced the challenges of post-disaster recovery, we knew there would be a higher propensity of risk. We also knew all families faced these risks, regardless of their socioeconomic status.
Many years have passed since the disaster that launched us into the Healthy Families home-visitation services for newborns and their families. With our entire nation facing some unprecedented times, bringing some of the same uncertainties and compounded stressors to families across all walks of life as we face the challenges of COVID-19, we are so pleased that we chose the Healthy Families America (HFA) model. Now, more than ever, we need to support families and help them to nurture relationships using this proven, evidence-backed model.
In 2019, LSSND was able to more than double our footprint of this important child abuse-prevention program when we created Family Strengthening Hubs in two new locations of the state along with expanding services in another. The family strengthening hubs use a two-generation, family strength-building approach to help prevent families from going into crisis by identifying pressure points and transitions which may include life event such as birth of a child and then intervening with life-stage appropriate services which includes the Healthy Families program.
Our family strength-building approach is most easily described in terms of building the following kinds of skills in family units:
- Parental resilience
- Knowledge of parenting skills
- Social connections
- Concrete supports in times of need
- Social and emotional competence of children
Healthy Families is always voluntary. It begins prenatally, with services provided long-term and for most participants offered for a minimum of three years with weekly visits at the start. The model uses a creative approach and has some flexible adaptions available that are congruent with the needs of the FFPSA.
All of this is done with an eye to linking services in ways that reduce child abuse/neglect and optimize child development. A broad range of studies show when parents participate in Healthy Families, children are healthier, experience fewer adverse childhood events, and demonstrate long-term improvements in school performance. An overarching goal of this work is always to prevent families from reaching a crisis point.
We know that every parent, at some time or another, needs help and support. With April marking Child Abuse Prevention month, we encourage you to also look at ways you can stop adverse childhood experiences before they happen. It truly is one of the most rewarding and impactful approaches you can take, knowing the challenges that are before us.
For more information about our experience with providing child abuse prevention services through the Healthy Families model, contact Janell Regimbal, Vice President of Children’s Services at Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota, at email@example.com.