A unique collaboration between a professor of school psychology, two non-profits and an area psychologist is changing the face of parent training in Brazos County. Links for the Future was launched last spring by Drs. Jamilia Blake and Anne Wehrly, along with Voices for Children and Scotty’s House, to provide free evidence-based parent/caregiver education for families in Bryan/College Station.
“With the economy slumping, there were a lot of services that were scaled back and parenting classes were one in particular,” said Liana Lowey, executive director of Voices for Children. “Parents whose children were in the foster care system were being asked to complete parenting training services but there were no local providers.”
The goal of Links for the Future is to help parents address behavior problems and help their children improve socially and emotionally. “There’s a lot of research that shows teaching parents how to be proactive about managing behavior, creating structure and working on building quality relationships is critical for preventing future behavior problems,” said Dr. Blake.
The parent training in this partnership is based on The Incredible Years program, an evidence-based parenting class. It helps parents to strengthen a positive relationship, improve communications skills and teaches them about important parenting strategies. “For those children who are really defiant and aggressive, punitive parenting strategies are not going to be effective. You really have to learn to engage in positive parenting in order to see long-term changes in children’s behavior,” said Dr. Blake.
For 12 weeks, once a week, the families and facilitators get together for dinner and conversation. After dinner, the children participate in activities with child care workers from Texas A&M and the parents start their group activities. The program uses video modeling – the group watches a video and then discusses how the person in the video performed a particular strategy and how that strategy can be implemented in their home lives.
“In professional practice, you see families that are being lectured and they’re not going to be open to receiving that information. That’s why we facilitate conversation and self-insight,” said Lowey. “The fact that the families and the kids all sit down and have a meal together before the facilitation of the training even begins. I think there’s just something so human in sitting down and sharing a meal together and starting out on an even playing field for everybody getting to know each other.”
“The parents and their children are developing a healthier relationship with appropriate boundaries, the parents bond over shared experiences and the parents develop relationships with the facilitators who are experts in child development and are always willing to serve as a resource,” explained Cary Baker, executive director at Scotty’s House.
“12 weeks is a big commitment, but our families come,” said Dr. Blake. “It helps you realize that you’re not alone and that the difficulties you’re facing are not just isolated to you, other people are also experiencing it.”
The group is open to all families in the Bryan/College Station area, but Dr. Blake says the focus is on the families that are most at-risk. “It’s for children who are presenting challenges and you, as a parent, define what that challenge is. It’s up to the parent to decide if they need help. I believe that parents define needing help in different ways but it is essentially when parents come to a realization that what they’re doing to parent their child isn’t working and they run out of strategies.”
Graduate students work with Dr. Blake to learn how to implement a parent training program. One of the students, Danielle Smith, observed the groups last semester and is co-leading groups this semester. She plans to continue working with the Links for the Future program because she sees the difference it’s making in the lives of these families. "The strategies the parents learned worked for them and the extra support and encouragement thy got from the leaders and from the other parents helped them to stay strong in some very difficult situations,” said Smith. “We also had a lot of laughs and a lot of fun to go along with learning and discussing.”
Undergraduate students also work with Dr. Blake, serving as child care workers during the sessions. It gives those students the opportunity to work with children from different backgrounds and allows them to see developmental differences in how children behave. “When we train our students, we present this ideal world where everything is going to be perfect and it’s just not that way,” said Dr. Blake. “People have challenges and this gives our undergraduate students exposure to families that are different than theirs.”
The group is currently looking at expanding and this semester, another location was added for the sessions. Dr. Blake is facilitating a group at the women’s federal prison. Links for the Future has also been reaching out to others in the community who have daily interaction with families that might be interested or might benefit from the program. “We have some targeted goals we want to reach as far as where in the community we want to be and which families we want to reach,” said Lowey. “We don’t want to inundate it and then not have enough resources to provide the particular program.”
For more information about Links for the Future, visit: www.linksforthefuture.org.