To learn more about the services and supports that help families exit homelessness, read, “A Framework for Developing Supports and Services for Families Experiencing Homelessness.” It’s part of the HRC Special Issue on “The Future of Homeless Services.”
How are services best provided to young homeless and at-risk families in a rural community? This is a challenge that the leadership and staff at Strengthening Young Families have been grappling with since 2007.
Located in Antelope Valley, a rural area outside of Los Angeles, Strengthening Young Families is an initiative to improve the housing, health, and development of homeless and at-risk young mothers. It is a collaboration between four direct service agencies. Together, they have created a mobile, team-based approach to service provision. A key component of this project’s success is the home visiting service model. The model addresses the minimal transportation resources available to young families in the 2,000 square mile community.
The staff brainstormed ways to maximize time with clients and minimize staff time commuting to homes spread across the valley. Their creative and innovative approach of adopting centrally located group activities produced an unanticipated outcome: the creation of a social support network of young mothers. This unexpected development has maximized the program’s impact for these young, isolated families.
How did the social support network develop? The initial goal of the Strengthening Young Families program was to offer skill-building parenting groups in accessible locations throughout the community. The sessions were age-specific mother/child sessions and well attended from the start.
The parenting groups evolved into educational “play dates” for the young children. As a result, the play date sessions also became opportunities for the mothers to interact with their peers. They offered a dedicated time for the mothers to discuss their children and share experiences with each other about their own lives.
Strengthening Young Families offers the following suggestions to help encourage social interaction between young parents.
- Create opportunities around topics of interest to the clients. Laura Page, Early Interventionist, shares, “Our clients are committed to their children. The safety, well-being, and development of their children is of utmost importance to them. As a result, they are motivated to attend and actively participate in parenting groups.”
- Make it easy to participate. Strengthening Young Families encompasses a large geographic service area. Classes are offered at times and in locations that are convenient for the families. Clients are offered a variety of transportation options to make the classes even more accessible.
- Enhance the potential for natural connections. Strengthening Young Families works with young mothers between the ages of 18-25. Their lives share many similarities and points of connection, and the young women tend to be very comfortable with each other.
Diane Grooms, Strengthening Young Families Project Manager, sums up the success of the informal networking. “It has been gratifying to see the young women supporting each other. As much as we can do to help them, nothing replaces the comfort and assistance of friendship and camaraderie from peers. I would encourage anyone who is serving young families to provide opportunities for informal connections to flourish.”
A young mother emphasizes the importance of the social support she has gained through participation in the program. “For me, the most important thing is knowing there are other people in the situation that I’m in. Through the program, I’ve met a lot of people outside of the staff. We meet together during the week and have time to socialize. The kids get to play with each other. It lets me know there is still hope.”
Strengthening At Risk and Homeless Young Mothers and Children, is an initiative to improve the housing, health and development of homeless and at-risk young mothers and children. This initiative is funded by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and is implemented in partnership with the National Center on Family Homelessness, National Alliance to End Homelessness and ZERO TO THREE: National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families. The Initiative includes four program sites located in Pomona, California; Antelope Valley, California; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Chicago, Illinois.
Check out the "Related Items" to the right of the screen.