Link to Aricle · Sterling Journal-Advocate (Colorado) · Callie Jones
STERLING -- During an Early Childhood Conference held Saturday at Northeastern Junior College, area daycare providers and early childhood educators learned about a variety of topics including preventing child abuse.
During one of the many breakout sessions, Kendrea Dunn, executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Colorado, spoke about the Strengthening Families Initiative Protective Factors.
"When we talk about preventing child abuse, often people assume what we mean is, do you know how to recognize and report child abuse," Dunn said. "Which is important, but what I'm talking about is really how do you work with families and with children so that nothing bad happens to begin with."
The vgCallie Jones/Journal-Advocate Kendra Dunn, executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Colorado, talks about the Strengthening Families Initiative Protective Factors during one of the breakout sessions at an Early Childhood Conference held at NJC. (Callie Jones/Journal-Advocate)
Strengthening Families Initiative was developed by the Center for the Study of Social Policy, in Washington D.C. As part of the initiative they developed the Protective Factors Framework.
"A protective factor is something that you can do, you can build as a family, or in a community, that will actually have the effect of making healthy child development stronger, of making families stronger," Dunn said. "It therefore can almost act as a immunization, if you will, against child abuse and neglect."
There are five protective factors, social connections; parental resilience; knowledge of parenting and child development; concrete supports in times of need; and social and emotional competence of children.
Dunn encouraged early childhood professionals to think in terms of helping build social connections among parents and others.
"If I offer to do something at the center, am I encouraging parents to bring the other important adults in their child's life with them to participate in the activity too?" Dunn said. "If I offer a training for staff, can I also open it up to parents or grandparents who might be interested in coming?"
She talked about doing things like having an annual potluck dinner so parents can get to know each other and making sure the center has somewhere where parents can socialize with each other.
Additionally, she encouraged providers to plan different outside activities for moms and dads, and to create parent groups.
Parents need to know how to deal with life's ups and downs, have a way to deal with stress and a way to have hope that things will get better.
Dunn recommended occasionally offering stress management workshops for staff and parents and maybe creating a list of churches or faith communities in the area, where parents can go for support.
Additionally, she encouraged childhood professionals to act quickly when they see a problem with a child, like their behavior or development not being right on par. This will help parents be more resilient because the sooner a problem is addressed the easier it is to solve.
Knowledge of Parenting and Child Development
Parents need to know what to expect in terms of how their child will grow, and what's typical and what's not. Plus, they need to know some parenting skills.
"Loving your child is inherent; it's nature -- your child is born, you love them. But that doesn't necessarily mean you have the parenting skills," Dunn said. "Those you develop, those you learn."
"We need to make sure there are opportunities for parents to learn about parenting."
She recommended having a daily time where there's interaction between staff and parents about what's going on with their child.
"When a particular issue comes up does your staff take a moment to coach the parent on things like how to handle biting, or what's going on if they're having a hard time sharing," Dunn said.
Staff should act as a resource or a partner with the parents, share what they're doing at school to address and issue, ask what parents are doing at home and provide tips for handling the issue.
Concrete Support in Times of Need
"There are times when problems are so severe and so specific, they really need professional help," Dunn said. "That would be things like substance abuse treatment, counseling... some job training, but there's actually times we need to connect families with professionals and programs to help meet their needs, because they're bigger then they can meet on their own."
That's why early childhood professionals need to be able to recognize a family in crisis."Make sure that your staff and you recognize what a child under stress looks like and what a parent under stress looks like," Dunn said. "That's the point that we want you guys to start a positive conversation with the family about 'hey, how can I help?'"
She encouraged the providers to have a list of resources at their disposal, phones numbers for the local shelter or a substance abuse treatment program, for example.
To help with support there is statewide support line for families, in both English, 1-800-CHILDREN or 1-800-224-5373, and Spanish, 1-800-LAS-FAMILIAS or 1-866-527-3264.
The support line is confidential and anonymous and operated by a private nonprofit organization. It is staffed from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week.
Parents can call and talk about anything from being stressed out because they had fight with their significant other, to having trouble getting their child to sleep, to having difficulty paying rent, and they will get information and resources to help them.
Social and Emotional Competence of Children
"It helps children thrive," Dunn said about why social and emotional competence is a protective factor. "We want children to thrive, so we want to teach them skills that will help them get through childhood and adulthood."
Plus, children who have healthy and emotional growth are less likely to act out or have anger problems, making them easier to parent.
To ensure social and emotional competence she suggested using programs such as Touch Points or Incredible Years.
While implementing a curriculum is great, it's also important to do some informal instruction too.
"You're watching two kids play. Are you supporting them and helping them learn how to be friends and how to share and how to take turns or how to apologize, how to give them compliments?" Dunn said. "Those kinds of things can be taught just every day in play."
To learn more about the five protective factors, visit strengtheningfamilies.net.
The Early Childhood Conference was sponsored by NJC; Early Childhood Council of Logan, Philips, Sedgwick; and the northeast district group of Colorado Association for the Education of Young Children.
Callie Jones: (970) 520-5286; firstname.lastname@example.org