Support from the start: Youth Collaborative seeks to give kids a healthy start to life | TheUnion.com

Support from the start: Youth Collaborative seeks to give kids a healthy start to life

Last month, Nevada County was introduced to the newly formed Youth Collaborative.

The group was organized by local nonprofit groups that come together to identify and work in partnership with programs and services aimed to provide resources and services in support of at-risk children and youth.

The collaborative is finding its traction, as its members work to help Nevada County's youth grow to be healthy, thriving members of society.

The need for the services offered by the collaborative can begin as soon as the child is conceived. In fact, they see conception to age five as being some of the most important and formative years in a child's life.

“The primary reason for the program is to make parents stronger so they can be the best parent they can be.”

— Joyce Ash, Foothills and Truckee Healthy Babies

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While offering varying services for individual needs, one common thread that weaves members of the collaborative together are the Five Protective Factors, a set of elements that have been proven as "promotive" factors that build family strengths and a family environment that promotes optimal child and youth development:

Parental resilience: A parent's ability to manage and recover from everyday challenges

Social connections: A family's network of support including friends, family members, neighbors and community members

Concrete support in times of need: Adequate services and supports in place to provide stability, treatment, and help for family members to get through times of crisis.

Knowledge of parenting and child development: Possessing accurate information about child development and appropriate expectations for children's behavior at every age

Social and emotional competence of child: A child or youth's ability to interact positively with others, self-regulate their behavior and effectively communicate their feelings

A helping hand

Shona Torgrimson-Duncan is owner and executive director of Helping Hands Nurturing Center in Grass Valley. Helping Hands' works "to promote healthy, nurturing parent-child relationships through support services and education."

Services at Helping Hands can begin while the mother is still pregnant. Parents can engage with Helping Hands on their own, or they can be referred by a contracted agency such as Child Protective Services or CalWORKS.

Torgrimson-Duncan said that as soon as she receives a referral, she makes contact with the parents within 24 hours, beginning a tailored program meant to educate and set the family on the right path.

Helping Hands works with the whole family, and have multiple contracts in the county. They offer a sliding scale to better accommodate families who may not be referred through an agency and who don't have the funds to pay for their services in full. One need not have a referral from the court, or protective services, but if one of those agencies are going to be funding the service then the referral must come from the agency.

Little hands keep busy with plenty of toys at Healing Hands' bright, cheerful space, while parents consult with Torgrimson-Duncan and her staff.

"I prefer to do intakes, if possible, with just a parent so that I can get all of the information that I need without distraction," said Torgrimson-Duncan. "Sometimes that's not possible. If it's a baby, that's not a big deal but when we have school age children that's a little bit more difficult to really get the true family dynamic and not expose the kids to hearing what it might really be like."

Torgrimson-Duncan said her organization is serving approximately 40 children between the ages of 0 and 5. When Helping Hands opened in 2014, they had 16 clients. Last year, they served about 237 kids and 140 parents.

"(Our) Nurturing Program is building on the five protective factors in each family," said Torgrimson-Duncan. "When the protective factors are established in the family the likeliness of child abuse and neglect will diminish. These are the crucial points of what we need to help reduce the risk of child abuse."

Torgrimson-Duncan said they work with parents to discover the root of their parenting beliefs: how did they start? Where did they grow from? What were their parents' parenting styles? Who are they today and what made them that person? She said Helping Hands' programs can help break negative parenting cycles.

"Our philosophy is that it's a lifestyle of nurturing," she said. "Do no harm to self, others, or anything. And if you are living that type of life, then you are doing right by your family. It's about self care, because when we can meet our own needs then we can genuinely be able to meet our children's needs."

IDENTIFYING, SUPPORTING PARENTS IN NEED

Marina Bernheimer, executive director of Child Advocates of Nevada County, said that her organization also focuses on early intervention and prevention and frequently intervenes as soon as they receive a referral, which can be during a woman's pregnancy.

She said the expectant mother performs self-assessment which determines what qualifies her for support. There's no income criteria, she said, and those who are screened in are offered home visit services and a home visitor.

"That assessment allows us to identify those parents in need of additional support. If they agree to support we can provide home visitations."

Bernheimer said the stigma of being on the receiving end of a home visit is one they challenge nearly every day.

"The home visitors are very engaging, non-judgmental. They are able to engage and form trusting relationships over time. We're (striving for) a healthy, long-term relationship."

Home visitors undergo extensive training and are continually educated and trained throughout their employment. They are experts on community resources, connecting families with resources they need (food, mental health, medical services) by referring them to the appropriate outlet. The role of the home visitor is to try to build on each family's strengths.

Joyce Ash of Foothills and Truckee Healthy Babies said her organization's home visitation model is important and intentional.

Ash said families in rural areas face greater challenges because getting children to services is inherently different. For example, if a family doesn't have access to a vehicle, it can be significantly more difficult to bring babies and children to doctors appointments, social engagements, or even the grocery store without access to public transportation. One of the main purposes of home visits is making it easier for families to receive help and support, she said.

"A home visit always has certain components," said Ash. "We are accredited through Healthy Families America, a national best-practice program."

A home visit takes about an hour, and the visit will help set goals with parents. Once established, the visits are used to check in on how the family is doing on their specific family goals, and there is always an age-appropriate interactive activity used to promote the bonding between parents and baby.

DIFFERENT NEEDS FOR DIFFERENT REASONS

Additionally, Ash said, it has been found that parents are more comfortable speaking to personal matters in their own homes. Home visitors can get a glimpse into the reality of the household — how they live, how much space they dwell in, and the appropriateness of the environment in which the children are being raised.

Ash said the home visitor brings child development information and a set of evidence-based curriculum from Partners for a Healthy Baby, a program established by Florida State University.

The reasons why an unborn baby or young infant may receive services from Foothills & Truckee Healthy Babies are as unique as the children themselves.

"It has to do with the assessment done on mom," Ash said. "Whether mom has support systems in place, her relationship with the child's father, money issues, living situations. Are they self sufficient? There could be mental health issues, past involvement with CPS and the outcome. Their past and childhood experience is an indicator of their future success as a parent."

"We know early intervention has the most profound and long lasting impact," said Bernheimer of Child Advocates. "So by working with women from the time they are pregnant, (and the baby is) born allows us to have a really significant, long term impact that saves lots of dollars and interventions in the future."

Bernheimer and Ash said the main goal is to give parents resources and support so that they are better able to raise their children in a loving, nurturing environment.

"It's a child abuse prevention program," said Ash. "We are able to identify families who are in need of support and those who don't. The primary reason for the program is to make parents stronger so they can be the best parent they can be."

Jennifer Nobles is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at jnobles@theunion.com or 530-477-4231.