Professional Resource

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Opening Doors With the ParentChild+ Program: Using the Power of Relationship to Change Lives

by Sarah Benjamin

Abstract

The ParentChild+ Program was created more than 50 years ago and has provided thousands of at-risk families across America with positive outcomes. Originally known as the Mother-Child Home Program and later, Parent-Child Home Program, the model is home visiting, reaching families affected by poverty and societal hardships. This article describes how the program supports and empowers parents of young children as their children’s first and most important teacher in the context of today’s increasing social isolation of families with young children.

In every era of American history, families have faced challenges in one form or another. What might have been a societal challenge in the 1850s was not a challenge in the 1950s. Each century brings new problems and different stressors. Today, in 2019, families are more socially isolated from their extended families than in previous generations. What happens when there is no extended family available? Perhaps a woman is on her own due to domestic abuse and violence. She may bring that baby home to a shelter, where strangers look at her with suspicious eyes and the presence of a guard at the front gate makes her think that she already failed in life just by living there. What if a couple has left family in a faraway country due to hunger, fear of the government, or violence in the streets? They must parent on their own.

One thing that never changes is that people need people to survive. What is clear and constant is that families need support. Mothers and fathers need to learn how to parent, and they need the help of others. Babies need their parents present and in love with them: responding, attentive, available, and interacting. Parents also need others in the family and the community to provide the security and framework around them to give them the rest, the courage and the ability to do the same for their child. Human connection is essential.

Once, communities were more open and neighbors helped neighbors with every kind of support. Families of several generations lived together or nearby, and child-rearing was the job of everyone. Most front doors were kept unlocked and open. But in the 21st century, even in a small town, society has become more private, less communicative, more guarded. Lack of stable, affordable housing, food insecurity, the rising cost of living, and dwindling community resources add to financial strains and undermine the base of family security.

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