Parent educators agree: Attracting and retaining group members means removing barriers to participation. We spoke to parent educators whose recommendations include a child care program, bus passes, gift cards, food and adapting the curriculum to the needs of the group.
The overall goal is to model for families the kind of support, nutrition and respect the curricula discusses. Carrying out the goal can make the difference in whether or not families participate. Here are five ways to gain and keep your group members.
1. Offer Child Care
A child care program makes it possible for more families to attend. “For a lot of people, I think it does make a difference on whether or not they do the class,” says Jan Holowati, program coordinator at Silverton Together in Silverton, Ore. “Most of our classes have a fee; think about paying a babysitter, too, to come to a class.”
|Setting Up a Volunteer Program
Thank goodness for volunteers! But where can we find good ones and keep them? We asked the Volunteer Coordinator for Parenting Now!, for her recommendations. She says:
Jan says they get more parents to attend because both adults can attend. Single parents appreciate the child care, too.
“Even if paying a babysitter isn’t a problem, it’s much easier for all to come and leave on the same schedule,” Jan says.
The program at Silverton Together has “lots of toys and activities. Some places have certain activities for certain ages. We don’t do that. Our child care supervisor has been doing this for a long, long time and she actually works at an elementary school. She took our class and really wanted to work with the kids.”
“She’s primary; then we have high school girls we pay to be assistants. Assistants are there to work with the children, play with them, give them attention. The assistants don’t have special training, but most have younger brothers and sisters or have been through our leadership training. We know them or they’ve been recommended. The supervisor gets to know all of them and matches them to the best group.”
“On the first evening of class, parents are asked their preferences: do they want to change the diapers or have staff do it? If parents want the children ready for bed, who should put pajamas on them? The parents’ preferences are put on the check-in sheet.”
“A lot of times the kids look forward to coming,” Jan says, “and that helps the parents, too. The parents relax and learn something if their child isn’t fussy.”
Contact: Jan Holowati, Silverton Together
503.873.0405 or firstname.lastname@example.org
In North Carolina, Charlene Montgomery and Rita Crawford work to attract and retain their Make Parenting A Pleasure® group members. They work for Thompson Child and Family Focus and provide child care for their groups. They offer suggestions that include:
2. Provide a meal
Without meals for the families, Charlene Montgomery, Family Educator, says, “Most likely, they probably wouldn’t be in the class. They like the fact that they can depend on a meal for their child. Half have told me they didn’t expect us to feed them, but they like the fact that they don’t have to feed their children during class.”
“We’ve also found that a lot of our parents may be homeless,” says Rita Crawford, Director of Family Education Services. “That may be the only meal they receive that day. When we do our initial assessment, they won’t tell us they’re homeless. It’s all about building that rapport.”
“We tell them in advance about child care. Meals and everything else, we don’t. If we don’t get funding, we won’t have it,” Charlene explains. “When we have it, they’re surprised and very pleased. They feel kind of like they’re at home, they loosen up, they eat while group is going on or during break time.”
3. Provide incentives
“We create stress-buster kits that might include soothing CDs for parents, candles, lotions like lavender, bubble bath or stress balls,” Charlene says. “It might be something for parents to do with their child, such as an educational toy. Every week, we have something of that nature. We build it into the budget as a way to focus on the well-being of the parents.”
4. Cater the curriculum to the participants
“For the past year,” Rita says, “our group has been 12 weeks. We stay with 12 because of the needs of the families. That last class [of the series], they have so much to bring, so many questions, they really get involved. When I asked facilitators about the length of the class, that’s when we decided to push it to 12.”
Charlene explains, “The last two weeks are discipline – that’s a hot topic – and the child development part goes to two classes or 1.5.”
“We cater the curriculum to the class. We try as best we can to cover the material that will benefit those parents the most. Not that we leave things out, but for example, if we have a class of parents [whose children are] more in the 1- to 2-year-old age, we try to cover that more.”
“This is where our planning comes in,” she continues. “We review how the last group went, discuss some clients in more detail than others. For example, I noticed it was kind of quiet or Johnny is kind of a quiet person, but how do I bring him out? When we’re planning, we’re very intentional about it: what worked, what we feel might need to change for the next class. Perhaps the group opened up more when we did paired activities. So then we prepare the material so they do these activities.”
“The [Make Parenting A Pleasure®] curriculum is very flexible. It was part of the training. I believe it’s very effective for our families with young children because it’s a time to focus on themselves and then deal with themselves as parents. A lot of times they are stressed and dealing with anger or communication issues, and they are surprised when we focus on them instead of their relationship with their children.”
“We’re social support as well as providing resources. We get background information, and they open up more about what they need to get from class and what they’re noticing about their children. They learn more about where the child is developmentally. Possibly, we provide resources that they didn’t know about.”
‘It’s interesting to see the transformation by the end of class,” Charlene concludes. “We’ve found that being intentional about those clients who may not like to verbally participate, we get to where we’ll call specifically on those people. It’s not to put them on the spot, but to let them know we see them and we want them comfortable to say what they want to say and feel like they’re not getting jumped on. If they want, they can pass or phone a friend. Sometimes we’ll get a group full of talkers or a group where no one wants to talk. We have to figure out each group as we get them. We have a strategy for each type.”
5. Encourage parents to rely on each other for support
“We help them use each other for support as well,” Charlene says. “We encourage them to pick a buddy to call or send a quick text to each week. We check every week – did you call your buddy? Were you a support? Were they a support for you? We give them incentives – small things – to encourage them.”