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AIA Change Agents: Families Growing Together

Valentina LapradeThis post is 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 Valentina Laprade, Project Director of Families Growing Together in Providence, RI.

1. Tell us a little bit about Families Growing Together.

Families Growing Together (FGT) is an in-home service that works with caregivers  to strengthen their relationships with their children.  The clinicians  employ evidence-based practices, including videotaping, to help the caregiver determine what is working effectively in their relationship with the child, and to support and encourage changes to enhance the parent-child bond.  Family Mentors also work with parents on life goals such as employment and education.  We have structured visitation specifically for families whose children are in the foster care system.  Our program incorporates an experimental design with a control/treatment group allowing us to measure the impact of our work with families and their children to inform our team and the field on what works.

2. You mentioned that your program works with families when children are in out of home placement. How do you promote positive parent-child attachment in these families?

Our foundation for strengthening and promoting bonding and attachment is an evidence-based practice method called Promoting First Relationships (PFR).  PFR is focused on helping caregivers nurture a child’s social and emotional development.  We find this work is particularly essential with families who are separated.  As long as everyone can be safe, we insist that visitation frequency and length be increased from the standard child welfare practice.  We provide transportation to the visits, parental preparation and reflective feedback to enhance the relationship between child and parent.

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

Our families are frequently challenged by the effects of poverty and oppression.  Most of our parents have had traumatic childhoods affecting how they view themselves in their role as a parents. Our parents are strong, resilient people who want the best for their children.  Additionally, we work with wonderful foster parents and providers on helping to support the parent/child relationship for the benefit of the child.  One of our first cases was a family who successfully graduated this September.  The mother was involved in one of our other family preservation programs last year, and she was one of the inspirations for how we developed the programming for Families Growing Together.  This mother’s success continues to validate the team’s practice methods and motivates them to continue refining their skills.

4. What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of this work?

The most challenging aspect of this work is the overwhelming despair many of our families feel in the face of poverty.  Some meet their needs via criminal behavior, and this has long standing consequences, further impairing their ability to move beyond their circumstances.  Also, as noted previously, many of our parents experienced childhood trauma and/or child welfare involvement themselves.  These experiences have lifelong impacts in the health, safety and well-being of many of the families we see.

5. If Families Growing Together were to have a mascot, what would it be? 

The team struggled and then had some fun with this question.  Ultimately, we decided on a symbol for our program versus a mascot.  On our brochure, we had picked a picture of an infant reaching out and holding an adult’s hand.  We feel this symbolizes the core of the adult/child relationship — the child’s need for nurturance, acceptance and safety, and the adult’s caring response.

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