A PREVENT Case Study in New York
No one, not even the greatest parent in the world, was born knowing how to soothe a screaming baby in the middle of the night, how to appropriately draw the line with a testy two year old, how to support a middle school student navigate the social challenges of friendship, or how to find the balance of holding on and letting go that a teenager needs. Parenting is one of the toughest and most important jobs in the world. Parents who lack the skills, resources and supports to provide their children with a strong foundation are at significantly increased risk for neglecting or abusing their children. (Parents represent 80% of the perpetrators of child abuse). While there are many approaches needed to prevent child maltreatment, supporting parents to find their way in this critical role is certainly a key one.
The New York State Parenting Education Partnership (NYSPEP) argues: “It’s important to remember that great parents are made, not born. That’s why all parents can benefit from a little information and support.” NYSPEP is an active partnership of almost 500 participants whose mission is “to enhance parenting skills, knowledge and behavior through a strong statewide network that promotes and improves parenting education” in New York State. In two short years, this group has successfully raised the profile of positive parenting as an important strategy to prevent child maltreatment in New York State.
In 2006, the NYS Council on Children and Families brought together people from across the state to develop a Statewide Early Childhood Comprehensive Systems (ECCS) plan. This plan covered four broad areas: healthy children, strong families, early learning, and supportive communities & coordinated systems. Under the area of “strong families” the plan includes an objective about increasing families’ ability to nurture positive development in their children. Christine Deyss of Prevent Child Abuse New York and Judith Richards of the NYS Office of Children and Family Services (Children and Family Trust Fund) had long been working together to prevent child abuse. They had started talking about the need to think about promoting positive parenting as an avenue to prevent child abuse, and thought this new ECCS plan gave validation to this idea. Around the same time, Deyss and Richards both heard about the PREVENT Institute. They convened a team and applied with the proposal to use the above ECCS objective as a jumping off point for statewide promotion of parenting education and support.
By the end of the first PREVENT Institute session in late 2006 , the NY team had decided to establish a public-private taskforce whose goal was to “Create a culture of positive parenting through evidenced based parenting education for ages 0-5”. In between the two Institutes the team found funding to a hire a project coordinator. They also successfully held a day long forum with 50 participants from around the state for in-depth discussion and expansion of the team’s plan around positive parenting education.
Between the two Institute sessions the biggest thing we did was bringing people together from all around the state to get buy in...who by the end of the first year identified themselves as interested in parenting education. This was new because there wasn’t a way before for all these people to work together, much less feeling like the state was interested in what they were doing. (Team member interview October 2009)
This forum launched a group that met again within six months and is now known as the New York State Parenting Education Partnership (NYSPEP). By the end of 2007 they had established a vision, mission, and principle statements along with a structure of multiple workgroups.
NYSPEP has had significant accomplishments since being launched by the PREVENT team. They have expanded and formalized themselves; the group holds in-person meetings twice a year and is supported by an executive committee, a steering committee, and five workgroups which are active via phone conference calls between face-to-face meetings. They have taken steps to make the parenting resources that already exist in the state more accessible to parents. For example, they have developed a website where a parent can search for all of the parenting programs in their county to find one that supports their needs. The partnership also publicized and supported the Family Resource Network, helping them to expand their website’s searchable database of materials (articles, books, other websites) on parenting and parenting education.
In addition to promoting existing parenting resources, NYSPEP has also taken steps to improve the quality of the parenting education that already exists and to develop new programs. Parenting educators can now go to the NYSPEP website to find opportunities for professional development. The partnership also conducted research (a survey of evidence-based materials and evaluation methods used by parenting programs in the state) that has provided data used for improving and supporting existing parenting programs. Discussion about this survey is raising the profile of evaluation among parenting education programs, an important step in improving practice in the field. NYSPEP identified a model program in California in which all new parents receive a kit of information; the Partnership developed a plan for implementing a similar program in NY and just received funding to do so.
These accomplishments have raised the profile of positive parenting in the state. The partnership is being incorporated into other long term planning processes. NYSPEP is now working to implement several recommendations from the 2009 NYS Early Childhood Plan. They have been noted as fulfilling one of the important strategies of “The Children’s Plan” (NYS Office of Mental Health, 2008). As an indication of the importance that state agencies give to NYPEP’s work, in early 2010, Prevent Child Abuse New York received a $200,000 grant from the NYS Office of Mental Health and $35,000 funding from the NYS Council on Children and Families to continue and expand the work of the New York State Parenting Education Partnership (NYSPEP). They will use these funds to move the Partnership’s work forward in multiple areas: expanding their searchable database of parenting programs; conducting surveys and focus groups to identify gaps between parenting services and parent needs; creating a stipend program to address these identified barriers; providing in-person workshops and online webinars for parenting education professional to improve the quality of practice in the state; and creating a prototype for the NY version of a “New Parent Kit” (based on the CA model) and planning distribution, evaluation and on-going funding for the kit.
The PREVENT Institute played a key role in supporting a small group of professionals in NYS to create and propel an effort to bring together people and agencies from across NYS to promote positive parenting.
PREVENT takes the concept of capacity-building to a whole other level. It takes the nuggets of things going on in different agencies and places in the state and creates a process that all those things can come together...This is the one thing I’ve been involved with that has actually operationalized the cross systems thinking and intent, and carries it to actually being capacity-building for the common good. (Team member interview October 2009)
The PREVENT Institute also supported NYSPEP with the concepts and tools necessary to move New York State towards a public health approach to preventing child abuse in which more attention is paid to promoting the positive than avoiding the negative.
Overall, it [PREVENT] helped shift our thinking, perceptions, language, and presentation of “child abuse prevention” from a social problem to a public health concern, a shift in direction we had begun but that was tremendously enhanced by the Institute...it has provided for a major leap in our ability to operationalize a public health approach. (Team Final Report 2007)
The efforts catalyzed by the PREVENT Institute have paid off. There is now a large, coordinated, active, and funded group working to make sure that every parent in New York has the information and support they need to provide children with the love and support needed to succeed throughout their lives.
New York PREVENT Institute Team (2006)
- Established statewide partnership focused on promoting positive parenting education
- Built membership to 500 individuals and agencies
- Created organizational focus and structure
- Hold regular in-person meetings of whole partnership and conference calls of working groups
- Created and disseminated information and tools to support parenting educators and parents
- Developed new websites with resources for both parents and parenting educators
- Expanded and publicized professional development opportunities for parenting educators
- Started developing a statewide parenting educator certification program
- Developed plan to disseminate parenting information kit to all parents of newborns
- Raised the profile of parenting education and support in statewide planning processes
- Obtained significant funding to maintain and expand the above activities