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July 20, 2015 | Volume 90 Number 19

ARTICLES

Strengthening families encouraged through grant

C atholic Charities of Eastern Virginia has received a $44,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Social Services to offer the internationally-recognized Strengthening Families Program in Hampton Roads. The organization expects to begin training facilitators later this month and plans to have the first class up and running in September in Virginia Beach. Later it will also offer the Strengthening Families Program in Norfolk and Portsmouth.

The upcoming class dates will be posted on the organization’s website www.cceva.org once they are set.

The grant, which is for the prevention of child abuse and neglect, should allow CCEVA to teach family-enriching skills to a total of 30 families. Because each 14-week session is “pretty intense,” class size is limited to about 10 families per course, explained Chris Tan, chief executive officer.

Tracy Fick, the agency’s director of development and marketing, said the grant provides “a wonderful opportunity to encourage positive, healthy family relationships.”

“It’s exciting to have the ability through the funding to provide an evidenced-based program that really works in our community and to build families up when there are so many pressures now in our society that tend to tear whole families apart,” she said.

A unique aspect of Strengthening Families is that it educates both parents and children and offers the opportunity for them to practice their skills in front of a facilitator, Mr. Tan said.

Topics for the adults include appropriate discipline, communication skills, coping skills, conflict management, family relationships, parenting styles, and developmental stages of children, Mr. Tan said.

The children’s skills training addresses many of the same topics, but also covers other concerns such as hopes and dreams, resilience skills, peer resistance, identification of feelings, and dealing with criticism, according the program’s website.

Ms. Fick said Strengthening Families is evidence-based, meaning it has “a proven track record.”

According to the Strengthening Families Program website, the family-skills training program has been proven to decrease child maltreatment and “to significantly improve parenting skills and family relationships, reduce problem behaviors, delinquency and alcohol and drug abuse in children, and to improve social competencies and school performance.”

For the first hour of each class session, the parents meet separately from the children who are divided into two groups according to age so the facilitator can present topics at the appropriate levels, Mr. Tan said.

For the second hour, the children and their parents reunite at a family-style meal where they try out their new skills with the oversight of the facilitators. This provides an opportunity for the group leaders to coach and encourage family members for improvements in parent/child interactions.

“The uniqueness of the program is you are actually working with the child and the parent, and they are working together as well,” Mr. Tan said.

Home-practice assignments help cement the new positive behaviors, the program’s website reported.

In keeping with CCEVA’s policy to serve everyone in the community, not just Catholics, the Strengthening Families Program is open to the public and is free.

Mr. Tan anticipates that different agencies and groups such as the judicial system, Social Services, parishes and pregnancy support centers will refer people to the program. Participants may also enroll without a referral.

Child care will be provided for children too young to participate.

Although this is the first time CCEVA is offering the Strengthening Families Program, the program is not new to Hampton Roads. Mr. Tan said he first became familiar with the program when working at the Newport News Department of Human Services which has offered the course for approximately 10 years.

“In my observation, it’s been extremely effective,” Mr. Tan said.

He said he has witnessed how the family changes from week one to week 14. As parents learned and practiced new parenting skills, their confidence grew, and he saw more positive behavior from both the children and adults. He said he noticed an “increased family bond between both parent and child.”

For more information or to register, call CCEVA at 757-456-2366.

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