For a social services organization, it takes courage to ask the tough questions. What is working for families? When and where do they want to connect? Who do they trust to deliver important information?
“Asking families what they want can be scary,” said Renee Slaven, program manager for the Parents as Teachers home visiting program at Catholic Family and Child Services in Yakima. “You have to be open to what they say, take what they say and put it in your program.”
It’s this type of approach – honest, responsive, patient and planful – that earned Slaven’s team the 2014 Losos Prize for Excellence from the Parents as Teachers national office. It was the first time a Washington program won the award.
What is home visiting?
The Catholic Family program was recognized for its outstanding efforts to overcome the language and cultural barriers faced by the Hispanic families it serves. The program has received funding from the state Home Visiting Services Account, administered by Thrive by Five Washington, since 2011.
Learn more about the Home Visiting Services Account
Slaven said the bicultural piece is very important, and it’s more than just reviewing your data and your family demographics. Don’t ask simply, where do my families live now? But also: Where did they come from? What are religious backgrounds that might play into things?
“People are not always trusting,” Slaven said. “Having that connection about ‘where I come from’ positions our staff as somebody they can trust.”
One of the program successes involved twice-monthly group connections meetings that brought together many families.
“We were looking at who were we missing every month,” Slaven said. “We were asking the educators, or the educators were asking their clients. Schedule was a big one.”
So the program offered a different time slot than usual, but it wasn’t a quick fix. It took about three months to start seeing more families at group connections. Slaven and her team were patient.
“We couldn’t just change it around. Families had to know and get their schedules organized,” she said. “It hadn’t been up on the priority list before because they thought they couldn’t ever attend. We have to make sure it got back on people’s radars again, that this was something that was component of our program.”
This Yakima success story offers a takeaway for other programs that serve families: Ask your families the difficult questions, and once you have the information, create a strategic plan for how you’re going to meet those needs.
Catholic Family & Child Service was one of two programs that received the Losos Prize this year. As part of the prize, Slaven and her team flew to St. Louis for the Parents as Teachers national conference earlier this month to accept the award, which comes with a $5,000 cash prize for the program.
“Is this where we tell you that we’re going to Disneyland?” Slaven joked.
Actually, the program has yet to decide how to spend the award money. They hope it can be used for a training opportunity.
Congratulations, Catholic Family & Child Service home visiting program! You’re making Washington state proud!
Visit the program’s Facebook page for more photos of the award ceremony or information about the program.