News from the Field 2: Driven and Empowered Youth Fosters Family Engagement

Written with assistance from Kelly Cirino, Project Director

This spring the Driven and Empowered Youth 21st CCLC hosted a family engagement workshop called 50 Ways to Show Your Children Affection. The workshop was part of a larger initiative in which community members become respite workers to parents in crisis. The initiative aims to provide parents with support and resources that will help empower the whole family unit.

This particular workshop was geared towards showing parents different ways that they can show their love to their children based on their own personal love language, or how they express and experience love. We chose to offer this workshop because students have expressed to us that at times they don’t feel loved by their parents, while parents and other family members have expressed a struggle in expressing their love to their children.

One of our parent liaisons facilitated the workshop based on a series of questionnaires and conversations with students’ parents and legal guardians. During one activity, the parent and child each wrote something that they loved about the other as well as something they would like to see change. Each family received a journal to start documenting weekly family activity, which helped create accountability for planned activities and also provided a place to record memories.

The event was a bit emotional for many of the parents who attended. Some cried, while others laughed. The parents loved the activity and asked us to offer more like them. Many of them told us that even though they already knew some of the topics and strategies we presented, the workshop still served as a reminder of what they as parents can do and why family time is so important. We were surprised to learn how difficult it was for some of the parents to show affection for their children. Some shared that they had never received affection as children and admitted that this made it challenging for them to show affection to their own children. We were impressed with family members’ willingness to share their personal challenges and to participate in activities that were outside of their comfort zones. At the same time, students began expressing some of their concerns to their parents and family members, while reassuring their family members that they were still loved. The whole workshop really started opening lines of communication between parents and children.

Our program focuses on workshops like this because so many families in crisis feel abandoned and overwhelmed. By offering them activities that empower them, we hope to dissipate some of the issues that undermine families. We know that if we don’t address the issues that impact students at home, it is harder to support their social and emotional needs.

We also know from experience that the family engagement component of 21st CCLC programs can be very challenging. The team at Driven and Empowered Youth has learned that family engagement depends on families’ needs at that time. We have to meet families where they are, which often means shifting our family engagement activities to meet the diverse and changing needs of the parents and legal guardians who have students in our programs. We still have work to do, but one parent, one event, and one student at a time, we are making progress.