What makes a family strong?
Babies don’t come with instruction manuals, which is why support programs in eastern Idaho teach parents skills to build strong families, writes Taryn Yates.
When I started work as a grant manager for the Idaho Children’s Trust Fund, I had a seven month old baby.
I began learning about a system-wide approach to child abuse prevention called the Strengthening Families approach and, being an introspective person, reflected on my own very positive experience in young motherhood compared to some of the experiences of families around me who are struggling.
What makes my family so strong? My son, as it turns out, is a pretty lucky little guy. He was born into family with two dedicated, healthy parents, both of whom have consistent employment including health benefits, as well as a local network of family and friends including involved grandparents, loving aunts and uncles and adoring cousins. His mother knows more than the average parent about attachment science and infant brain development, and even though we haven’t hit a rough patch yet, we have systems in place to protect us when we do.
Under such ideal circumstances, any family could be strong. And any child could be safe, healthy and free from abuse and neglect.
The Strengthening Families approach seeks to prevent child abuse by introducing or supporting these five protective factors in a family’s life:
- Parental resilience
- Healthy social connections
- Knowledge of child development
- Concrete support in times of need
- Social and emotional competence of children
Most parents love their children and want to do right by them. But parents are often surrounded by a variety of factors that make abuse and neglect more likely to happen.
The first one is stress, specifically toxic stress. Stress is normal part of parenting and can be useful in some cases. A mild amount of stress can be motivating and help you perform tasks, however, when stress is an intense and regular part of someone’s existence – it can be toxic.
When a parent feels unsafe or insecure, or they are experiencing domestic violence, or they don’t know how they will pay for food or rent each month, stress can prevent them from giving their children the nurturing attention they crave or even cause them to lash out verbally or physically at their kids.
Other circumstances such as social isolation, health issues, substance abuse, depression and anxiety can also make it hard for parents to nurture their children. Sometimes, a parent simply may not know what an infant or child needs to thrive – after all, they don’t come with an instruction manual.
If you or someone you know is a struggling parent, take heart – there is hope.
There are community organizations all over eastern Idaho that have programs to support families and help families build protective factors in their lives.
Over the next few months, this column will present all the protective factors in detail as well as the community organizations in your town that serve families.
In the meantime, if you are reading this, pat yourself on the back – you have already demonstrated the first protective factor of parental resilience just by surviving, by being present and seeking knowledge.
ICTF’s Grant Manager, Taryn Yates, had a regular parenting column in her hometown newspaper, the Idaho Fall’s Post Register from 2018-2019.
Yates, Master in Social Work, is a grants manager and planner for the Idaho Children’s Trust Fund/Prevent Child Abuse Idaho.