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AIA Change Agents – Cherish the Family

This post a part of an on-going series called AIA Change Agents where we get to know each of the direct service programs funded by the Children’s Bureau under the AIA Act. In this segment, we sat down to chat with Maria Hernandez, who serves as the Project Director of Cherish the Family located in North Lauderdale, FL.

1) Tell us a little about Cherish the Family.

Cherish the Family (CTF) is a program born out of the need to find more effective interventions to work with parents affected by substance abuse that lost custody of their children due to their addictions.  The program focuses on promoting family reunification and stability using a service model grounded in attachment theory and a strengths-based approach.  Our model involves collaboration with multiple community providers to provide culturally-competent services to strengthen a mother’s ability to care for her child and to promote increased bonding and attachment. In addition, the program links families to substance abuse treatment, mental health services, job training and support, counseling, and informal community supports. Each family is assigned a family consultant.  Family Consultants (FC) provide in-home, one-on-one court-approved parenting education, using the Promoting First Relationships framework. FCs also keep all parties connected during the process of reunification or safe permanent out-of-home placements for the child. This relationship acts as  a support system that enables clients to maintain or establish the connections that will allow them to work on their case plan. Most importantly, CTF works diligently in helping parents and children to remain bonded or to increase their bond. It emphasizes trust and safe therapeutic relationships.CTF prides itself in providing culturally responsive services to strengthen the parent-child attachment.

2) Can you give us an example of this?

The CTF team is very diverse when it comes to race, ethnicity, educational background and areas of expertise.  Each family receives individualized treatment, taking into consideration their strengths, needs and belief system.  In one particular case, CTF provided sibling and extended family visits to enhance the bonding and attachment.  A family with Polish origins and strong ties to the extended family benefited from the program being sensitive to the mother’s needs. The mother wanted to involve, at times, sisters, the baby’s cousins, grandfather and grandmother. The FC was able to provide a safe space and advocate to allow for such connections.

Also, during our Circle of Parents meetings, parents are encouraged to discuss their family values and their child-rearing practices.   Parents from different cultures discuss how their background influences their parenting styles.

3) Tell us about your clientele.  Is there a particular family that sticks out in your mind?

One particular family that stands out is headed by Joanna.  Joanna’s first child, Vinnie, was removed due to her abuse of prescription drugs (oxycodone). In her eyes, she didn’t have a problem since her doctor prescribed the medication for pain.  She loved her son, and didn’t think she needed treatment.  She bounced from recovery center to recovery center.  About one year into  service, she discovered she was pregnant.  She was convinced that if she could just continue working, she would be able to keep this child and get Vinnie back.  Joanna gave birth to a beautiful little girl, Alice.   Although neither Joanna nor Alice tested positive at the time of labor, the child welfare department determined Alice should also be removed from her mother.  Joanna was devastated.  She truly believed they would not take her child if she was at least actively engaged in employment activities. The separation from Alice was the kick she needed to get going.  She enrolled and completed substance abuse treatment and individual counseling.  She worked hard and was praised by her dependency court Judge for coming a long way.  Although in her case with Vinnie she was very  close to having her rights terminated, her dedication paid off.  The judge merged the cases together and finally, after a long haul, she was reunified with Vinnie and Alice.  She makes time for her recovery support groups and often shares her story as a beacon of hope for other young mothers.  Joanna says to other moms “I made it through the process, you can too.”  She encourages others to stay connected with their FC who she says “ …was the only one who believed in me and never lost hope for me.

4) What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of this work? What about the most rewarding?

Most challenging: The economic hardships that our clients face, the co-occurring mental health issues as well as a lack of a positive support system in their lives.

Most rewarding: When our clients completely change their lives – watching them work hard to live a sober life and become the best parents that they can be. Observing how they are able to fall in love with their children and have that love be the motivator for them to change is priceless.

5) If Cherish the Family were to have a mascot, what would it be?

A bee or ant,  because of the teamwork approach needed to support these families in the reunification process.

6) Question 6 was intentionally left blank. What question were you hoping we’d ask? What would you like to tell us that wasn’t covered?

All parents want to be the best parents for their children; unfortunately, negative life experiences and trauma impact their ability to do so.  They can’t give what they don’t have.  Therefore, to help them become better parents, it is important to give them the opportunity to re-parent themselves, work on their trauma and learn positive parenting skills.

One Response to AIA Change Agents – Cherish the Family

  1. MHS says:

    I really enjoyed reading the work you are doing and particularly the importance of focusing on specific theoretical interventions that don’t plug Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. The emphasis you have on cultural awareness reminded me of the importance of ‘culture’ in family work and once again I was drawn to the July (1995) Journal of Marital and Family Therapy Vol. 21 No3. 227-237 in which Kenneth Hardy and Tracey Laszloffy suggest that in order to meet the demands of a changing world family therapists will need to devote more time to develop ‘culturally competent’ therapists’. Unfortunately in the UK therapy training is skewed heavily toward CBT with little emphasis on family work. It was refreshing to note the ideas you have toward ‘cherishing’ the family. I remain hopeful that mental health providers here in the UK will eventually acknowledge the importance of cultural awareness and sensitivity if it is to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse population. Thank you.

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