Parents Helping Parents
Parental Stress Line
Parents Anonymous of Massachusetts (1999)
|Organization received a competitive grant from the Boston Foundation in the past five years||No|
Mission StatementMORE »
Empowering parents to nurture children and build stronger families
Empowering parents to nurture children and build stronger families
|Fiscal Year||July 01, 2016 to June 30, 2017|
For more details regarding the organization's financial information, select the financial tab and review available comments.
Empowering parents to nurture children and build stronger families
1972, Parents and Children’s Services (PCS) established the first mutual parent
support group on the East coast based on the Parents Anonymous model. In 1979,
the support groups that PCS established became a separate 501(c)3 organization known as Parents
Anonymous of Massachusetts. The name was changed to
Parents Helping Parents (PHP) in 1999 when the organization became an
affiliate of Circle of Parents, a division of Prevent Child Abuse America.
The idea of establishing an emergency telephone counseling service originated in 1973 with a report by a committee of experts on child abuse appointed by Gov. Francis W. Sargeant. One of the committee’s eight recommendations called for “a mechanism to answer the pleas for help of parents who urgently require counseling on how to manage crises with their children.” The committee concluded that a 24-hour telephone counseling service could “salvage many families and save children’s lives” by reaching parents who avoided more traditional social services because of their social and emotional isolation. In 1979, PCS began operating a 24-hour helpline, known as the Parental Stress Line. In 2005, PHP assumed responsibility for operating the helpline after PCS merged with the Home for Little Wanderers.
PHP recruits volunteers to facilitate parent support groups and to answer Parental Stress Line calls. These roles offer unusually challenging opportunities to people who want to help others. All prospective volunteers are interviewed to determine whether they have the proper temperament to volunteer in a PHP program. In addition, all volunteers must pass a criminal background check (CORI) as required by the State of Massachusetts. Volunteers must complete two days of training that practice role plays to simulate problems that come up in group and on calls. PHP’s volunteer-based model makes helping people extraordinarily personal, a service often lacking in our current society. This personal touch is especially important in addressing the individual needs of the parents and families dealing with sensitive issues about parenting.
The parent support groups and the Parental Stress Line respect the anonymity and confidentiality of parents. We do not ask for last names, addresses, or any other identifying information. No other organization in Massachusetts operates this way. Thus we are uniquely suited to support parents who are isolated or are too embarrassed or ashamed to ask for help from people they know.
Operating the Parental Stress Line (800-632-8188) on a 24 hour basis and handling 4,608 calls in FY 2016.
Maintaining a statewide network of 16 community-based parent support groups (10 in the TBF catchment area) that served 210 parents with 389 children in FY 2016.
Maintaining a network of nine prison-based parent support groups (at the Suffolk County, Norfolk County, Middlesex County, Plymouth County, and Bristol County Houses of Correction, and at the Essex County Women in Transition program) that served 209 parents with 1,045 children in FY 2016.
To maintain and expand the network of 9 prison-based parent support groups and to serve more than 250 inmates.
In collaboration with Wheelock College Social Work Department, to implement a rigorous research evaluation project that will evaluate the effectiveness of PHP’s prison support groups.
To maintain a statewide network of community-based parent support groups serving over 200 parents.
To operate the Parental Stress Line on a 24-hour basis.
To recruit and train at least 30 new volunteers to facilitate groups or take Stress Line calls.
To establish PHP’s Annual Forum at Wheelock College as a “must see” event for people working in the child welfare and juvenile justice fields.
#1: To become better known to the general public so that parents can call us for help when they need us. This should include developing parent speakers, organizing community events, creating marketing materials, distributing materials, and obtaining advertising space in parent newspapers and parent web and social media sites. A Marketing Director has recommended that we should spend 10% of our budget or about $37,000 on marketing. Currently we spend about $10,000 annually;
#2: To recruit volunteers who are motivated to make a significant time commitment to helping parents by facilitating a support group or taking Parental Stress Line calls;
#3: To plan for succession as the Executive Director approaches retirement in the next one to two years;
#4: To raise more operating funds to improve staff salaries and benefits;
#5: To recruit board members who are committed to our mission and who have the skills and contacts to help govern the organization.
My expectations were modest. I expected to serve on the Finance Committee and perhaps an Audit Committee if there was one. I thought I would offer some ideas from time to time but I did not expect to get very involved. I had a new job and a brand new baby at home.
In 1993, PA held its biennial conference. The program featured a keynote speaker and a series of workshops. It looked interesting but board members did not have to attend and I almost didn’t. But at the last minute I decided to take the day off and attend the conference. I did not know at the time how momentous a decision that was.
The conference began with three parents telling their story about why they went to a PA group and what they got out of it. I was not prepared for the emotional content of their stories. Stories about growing up with alcoholic parents; being sexually abused; battering a spouse; hurting children in various ways and how going to group had helped them overcome these traumatic experiences. I wept almost constantly as three parents told their stories, one after the other.
When they were done, I was exhausted. I stayed for the keynote speaker who I do not remember and then went home to recover. But the power of the parent’s stories stayed with me. I finally understood how precious an organization PA was and why it was so important that it continue to serve as a sanctuary for parents who were too afraid, too embarrassed, or too ashamed to talk about their personal lives and how they had mistreated their children.
When the Executive Director retired in 2002, I did not seek the position. But the person we hired did not work out. In 2004, the board asked me if I would be the Executive Director. This was a position I never expected to hold but I could not resist the challenge. And the challenges are substantial. However, I cannot imagine a world without PHP. Only at PHP can parents find a safe place to talk about things they cannot talk about anywhere else.
I am an example of what Parents Helping Parents tries to do for parents who go to our groups. We provide opportunities to learn new ways of dealing with our children and at the same time we offer ways of growing and taking on more responsibility within the organization. I help train new facilitators by sharing my story; I have served on a committee to develop new CHINS (Children in Need of Services) legislation; and I have given public testimony to a legislative committee that oversees the Department of Children and Families, the state child welfare agency.
My daughter was 13 when I joined a PHP support group. She was struggling with anorexia, bipolar, and assaultive behavior directed at me. I found the PHP group to be a place where I felt safe telling my story and where I would not be judged or criticized. At the same time I learned new ways of taking care of myself and not responding to my daughter’s bad behavior. I was very lucky to have found a PHP support group in my town.
Our 15-person board currently consists of six parents who started with us by going to group. We have added people to the board who have experience in areas such as law, finance, social work, and mental health, that are helpful in running the organization. Most of these additional board members also volunteer as group facilitators or as Parental Stress Line counselors. We continue to constantly seek out new board members and I give frequent reminders at board meetings that this is a responsibility of every board member.
GREATER BOSTON REGION, MA
METROWEST REGION, MA
NORTHEAST REGION, MA
Most of our 17 community-based parent support groups are located in Eastern Massachusetts, inside Rt. 495. Suffolk County has two groups in Boston and Chelsea; Essex County has two groups in Gloucester and Salem; Middlesex County has 7 groups in Framingham, Lawrence (2 groups) Lowell, Malden, Newton, and Waltham; Norfolk County has three groups in Quincy (2 groups) and Randolph; Barnstable County has one group in Hyannis; Worcester County has one group in Worcester; and Hampshire County has one group in Amherst. Based on attendance data, 89% of PHP’s parents attend groups in Suffolk, Essex, Norfolk, and Middlesex Counties.
A second program provides eight prison-based parent support groups. These are located in Suffolk County (two groups), Norfolk County (two groups), Plymouth County (one group), and Bristol County (two groups). Based on attendance data, 67% of PHP’s parents attend prison groups in Suffolk, Essex, Norfolk, and Middlesex Counties.
The Parental Stress Line is a 24-hour helpline accessible by telephone from anywhere in Massachusetts.
PHP’s groups are designed to achieve three goals: 1) Reducing social isolation; 2) Increasing parental resiliency; and 3) Helping parents improve their parenting skills. These goals are achievable when support group consist of non-judgmental peers who are dedicated to helping one another.
PHP support groups operate according to seven principles: (1) Ownership: The group belongs to the parents; (2) Confidentiality: Everything that is said in group, stays in group; (3) Anonymity: Only first names are used in group; (4) Non-Violence: No violence is permitted in the group or toward a partner or child; (5) Reporting: Authorities are contacted about child abuse only after involving the parent and the entire support group; (6) Substance Abuse: Parents can only participate in meetings if they are clean and sober; and (7) Parent Leadership: Parents are encouraged to assume leadership roles in the group and in PHP.
In FY 2015, 663 parents with 1,205 children attended our groups.
|Category||Human Services, General/Other Parenting Education|
|Population Served||Families Adults|
|Program Short-Term Success||The annual survey of parents attending PHP groups asks that parents answer some questions that assess the status of “protective factors” that are correlated with decreased incidence of domestic violence (i.e., increased resiliency; stronger social connections; and enhanced parenting skills). Data from 2014 shows the strengthening of the protective factor of “parental resilience” is reflected in parents’ response to the statement “I am able to ask for help when I need it.” (Before group 51%; after group 87%; improvement of 36%.) The strengthening of “social connections” is reflected in the response to the statement: I have others who will listen when I need to talk about my problems” (Before group 40%; after group 88%; improvement of 48%.) The strengthening of parenting skills is reflected in the response to the statement “I have tried different ways of handling difficult situations with my child (Before group 53%; after group 93%; improvement of 40%.)|
|Program Long-Term Success||
Our long-term goal is to create a society where parents can ask for help without feeling stigmatized; where parents know that at Parents Helping Parents they will find non-judgmental support that helps them become the parent they want to be.
When this occurs, there should be a significant reduction in the incidence of child abuse and neglect and in domestic violence generally; there should be a broader understanding that peer support, for some parents, can often be superior to professional support.
|Program Success Monitored By||
PHP has developed an annual evaluation form that parents attending group are asked to complete. The survey collects data regarding a series of questions related to enhancing three protective factors that research has associated with reduced domestic violence: 1) Social Connections; 2) Parental Resilience; and 3) Parenting Skills. Results from the survey show year after year improvements regarding how parents assess themselves in these areas.
|Examples of Program Success||
One day a new parent, Sam, came to group. He was a single parent of Ellen, a difficult 12 year old. The girl’s mother was chronically depressed and always letting her down. So Ellen got angry at her dad.
As Sam talked, I remembered how I had treated my father. I was 12 when mom left us. I tried to keep up a relationship with my mother who was an alcoholic but she let me down every time just like Ellen’s mom.
Then Sam said “So I told her she could go to her mother’s. I’ll help you pack.” “No” I said. “She’s just testing you. She needs to know you will always be there for her no matter what. If she begins to doubt that, who knows what she’ll do.”
DCF removed my kids but they were living with my dad. Here he was sacrificing all over again for me.
That night I called my dad. I told him how sorry I was for chasing away his girlfriends; for how mean I was after mom left. I told him he was my rock; I would always love him. You know what? My 54 year old dad, he cried. And I cried too.
| The Parental Stress
Line is the only 24-hour helpline in Massachusetts
that is available specifically for parenting issues. In each call, our volunteer counselors assess
the holistic nature of the caller’s concerns and then tailor the information
and support to fit the unique needs of the caller’s situation. Counselors use a reflective listening model
to support the caller’s emotional needs and ask open-ended questions to empower
the caller to develop their own plan of action. Rather than providing callers with advice, we assist them in thinking
through the steps that will help them move toward their identified goal.
During FY 2016, the Parental Stress Line handled 4,608 calls, a decrease of 8% over FY 2015 but an increase of 5% over FY 2013. 92% of parents indicated they were satisfied or very satisfied with the call and 71% planned to take at least one positive action.
|Category||Human Services, General/Other Parenting Education|
|Program Short-Term Success||
The short-term goals of the Parental Stress Line are 1) to calm callers down so they are less angry and 2) to develop a plan of action to address the problem they were calling about.
|Program Long-Term Success||The ultimate goal of the Parental Stress Line is to reduce social isolation – thereby enhancing one of the protective factors associated with safer homes -- by providing parents with a safe place to discuss family problems and be connected to community resources. The Parental Stress Line but would need to become much more widely known than it is now in order to achieve this goal.|
|Program Success Monitored By|| Our volunteer counselors complete a Call Record for
every call they take. Based on data provided by the volunteers for calls
received in 2014:
77% of callers are initially upset or very upset; at the end of the call only 12% are upset or very upset;
At the end of the call 72% have a plan to take at least one action that will make things better;
For those calls in which parent satisfaction could be assessed, the positive response rate was 91%.
|Examples of Program Success||Grace called the PSL in a panic. She was parenting her two
grandchildren and they were in a furious fight. She could not stop them. She
said she was worried they would pull the cord out of the phone and they did....
When Grace called back a few minutes later, she said she was raising the adopted children of her daughter who has a substance abuse problem. She never anticipated raising her grandchildren and she feels very alone. Grace was able to talk about feeling overwhelmed and resentful. She became calmer and said she was so relieved to have someone to talk to.
The PSL counselor helped her make a plan to get more support for herself and for her grandchildren. The children needed help coping with their mother’s drug problem and learning to express their anger without fighting. Grace and the PSL volunteer also made a safety plan for what Grace can do next time they fought.
At the end of the call Grace said she felt better than she had in a long time and she would call again.
PHP faces two interrelated challenges: 1) most families in Massachusetts do not know about our services and 2) we do not have the funds to publicize ourselves widely and on a consistent basis. As a result, our services are underutilized. About half of our community-based groups have two or three parents attending on a regular basis when five or six would be optimal. (Attendance at prison groups is not a problem.) The Parental Stress Line, which handled 4,608 calls in FY 2016 – about 13 calls per day – is also underutilized. Without any increase in the number of volunteers, the Stress Line could handle an increase of at least 50% or 7,000 calls annually. Because volunteers must set aside the time to wait for calls, they would prefer to be busier and we would be helping more families.
Our marketing budget is very modest. We spend about $10,000 per year on printing and distributing materials and another $2,000 on a graphic designer consultant. A Marketing Director in a large non-profit organization has suggested that we should be spending at least 10% of our budget or $37,000 on marketing expenses – about triple our current level of spending.
In additional to raising our profile among the general public, we are always looking for local collaborating partners who will inform parents about our services on an ongoing basis and encourage parents to call the Stress Line or visit our groups. It is not hard to find an organization that is willing to be a passive partner such as a church – providing space and some publicity. However, collaborating partners who share our enthusiasm for parent support services are harder to find. We need to explore new ways of networking with community-based organizations so we can link up with partners who equate our success with theirs. The state-wide network of Family Resource Centers (FRC’s) that has been developed by the Department of Children and Families offers important new collaborating possibilities. We currently have groups meeting at FRC’s in Quincy, Chelsea, Amherst, and Hyannis.
An additional challenge is that we offer only two services: support groups and the helpline. Thus DCF, court probation departments, and other organizations do not often think of us when talking to parents about what services might help them. We are exploring adding a peer mentoring program to our array of services.
|CEO/Executive Director||Mr. Randall Block|
|CEO Term Start||Sept 2004|
|CEO Email||[email protected]|
Randall Block has a Master's degree in public policy from the University of Michigan and a certificate in Not-for-Profit Management from the Columbia University Business School. He joined PHP as a board member in 1991 and was appointed by the board as Executive Director in 2004. Randy has over twenty-five years of experience in management and finance in government and not-for-profit human service agencies. Randy has facilitated groups in Boston, Chelsea, Fall River, Leominster, Lowell, New Bedford, Newton, and Walpole. Currently Randy facilitates prison-based groups at the Middlesex County and Norfolk County Houses of Correction. Randy also covers the Parental Stress Line on an emergency basis.
|Co-CEO Term Start||--|
|Mrs. Jeannette Atkinson||July 1980||Sept 2003|
|Ms. Claudia Vigil||Director of Program Operations||Claudia has a Master’s degree in Education in Risk Management from the Harvard School of Education and a Certificate in Health and Human Services Management from Suffolk University. Claudia has trained and supervised volunteers for the Parental Stress Line since 2000 and joined the PHP staff in 2005 to continue this work. Claudia oversees all program operations including direct supervision of the Parental Stress Line.|
|100K for 100 Grant Recipients||Cummings Foundation||2015|
|Member of state association of nonprofits?||Yes|
|Name of state association||Children's League of Massachusetts|
|External Assessment or Accreditation||Year|
At the community level, PHP establishes partnerships with local organizations to develop support groups all across the state. These “Collaborating Partners” provide space for group meetings, publicize the availability of the group, and sometimes provide staff to facilitate the group. Some of our partners around the state are: Family Nurturing Center of Dorchester; Framingham Housing Authority; and Bay State Community Services in Quincy. Some of our partners compensate us for the cost of supervising the volunteer facilitators.
Other groups that we offer are embedded in another organization’s programming such as in shelters or prisons. Currently we have groups in the Bristol, Middlesex, Norfolk, Plymouth, and Suffolk Counties Houses of Correction.
We also have a strategic collaboration with Wheelock College Social Work Department. See Impact Section, Statement #2 for more details.
Our biggest management challenge is succession. The Executive Director will retire in the next year or two. Although there is a plausible internal candidate, she may not want the job. Finding an external candidate who is committed to the unique methods PHP has developed and who can bring new energy and ideas to the organization will be a major challenge. Because of PHP’s small size, it is tempting to consider merger possibilities. The PHP board has rejected this option as incompatible with way we pursue our parent empowerment mission.
PHP has taken a number of steps to meet the challenge of succession.
First, the board held a self-assessment retreat on October 30, 2016 independently facilitated. Strengths and weaknesses of the board were identified and several goals were set for the year including recruiting additional board members.
Second, the board decided to increase the number of times the board would meet during the year and to focus each meeting on a different strategic question.
Third, the Board has established a committee to prepare plans for deciding on a succession strategy.
Fourth, the Executive Director has made clear his intention to be available as an advisor to his successor. He would consider retaining some responsibilities for a transitional period, such as fundraising, in order to support a new Executive Director.
As a very small organization with just six staff (albeit with many volunteers), the abilities and personality of the Executive Director are critical to the organization’s success. To remain relevant and viable, PHP must successfully transition to a new Executive Director in the near future.
|Number of Full Time Staff||3|
|Number of Part Time Staff||3|
|Number of Volunteers||100|
|Number of Contract Staff||2|
|Staff Retention Rate %||100%|
|Ethnicity||African American/Black: 0
Asian American/Pacific Islander: 1
Native American/American Indian: 1
Other (if specified): --
Not Specified 0
|Organization has Fundraising Plan?||Yes|
|Organization has Strategic Plan?||Yes|
|Years Strategic Plan Considers||3|
|Management Succession Plan||Under Development|
|Business Continuity of Operations Plan||No|
|Organization Policies And Procedures||Yes|
|Whistle Blower Policy||Yes|
|Document Destruction Policy||Yes|
|Directors and Officers Insurance Policy||Yes|
|State Charitable Solicitations Permit||Yes|
|Commercial General Liability and D and O and Umbrella or Excess and Automobile and Professional|
|Management Reports to Board?||Yes|
|CEO Formal Evaluation and Frequency||Yes Annually|
|Senior Management Formal Evaluation and Frequency||Yes Annually|
|Non Management Formal Evaluation and Frequency||Yes Annually|
|Board Chair||Ms. Deborah Singleton|
|Board Chair Company Affiliation||C&K COMPONENTS|
|Board Chair Term||July 2016 - June 2017|
|Board Co-Chair Company Affiliation||--|
|Board Co-Chair Term||-|
|Lillian Astrachan||Community Volunteer||Voting|
|Sarah Brinley||Community volunteer||Voting|
|Abby D'Angelo||Graduate student in genetic counseling||Voting|
|Jennifer Davis||Kotin, Crabtree & Strong||Voting|
|Ruth Ehrlich||Speech pathologist||Voting|
|Stewart Jester||Community volunteer||Voting|
|Sky Olander||Community Volunteer||Voting|
|Yves Ringoot||Parent Leader, Community volunteer||Voting|
|Toni Rose||Community Volunteer||Voting|
|Piro Sassa||Wolf & Co., CPA||Voting|
|Mia Shindell||Parent Leader, Community Volunteer||Voting|
|Deborah Singleton||C&K COMPONENTS; community volunteer||Voting|
|Thom Sudol||Community volunteer||Voting|
|Paul Thayer||Wheelock College, social work faculty||Voting|
|Alan Webber||Community Volunteer||Voting|
|Ethnicity||African American/Black: 2
Asian American/Pacific Islander: 0
Native American/American Indian: 1
Other (if specified): --
Not Specified 0
|Board Term Lengths||2|
|Board Term Limits||3|
|Board Meeting Attendance %||75%|
|Written Board Selection Criteria||Yes|
|Written Conflict Of Interest Policy||Yes|
|Percentage of Monetary Contributions||92%|
|Percentage of In-Kind Contributions||77%|
|Constituency Includes Client Representation||Yes|
PHP is truly unique since we are the only consumer led organization in Massachusetts dedicated to parenting support. Our president, vice-president, and one-third of our board are parent members of the organization. Our grassroots connection to people who need and use our services results in a constant flow of energy and ideas and ensures that everything we do is shaped by the parents who use our service. Further, parents tend to be the most enthusiastic members of our board of directors. However, there is a negative side to our commitment to grassroots leadership. People who join the board without previously being immersed in the organization either as a parent group member or as a volunteer can feel marginalized. This can make it difficult for us to recruit and retain people whose experience we truly need. For example, we did not have a parent or volunteer with a background suitable for being PHP’s Treasurer. We succeeded in recruiting a CPA, Piro Sassa, to join the board but we had to ask him to assume the responsibility of Treasurer immediately when we would have preferred to wait a year.
Another consequence of our grassroots board is that its fundraising capacities are limited. Parent members generally have a relatively low income and do not have access to many wealthy individuals. This puts greater pressure on the few board members that are well off and/or have access to people who are well off. This can create tensions and sometimes resentments. This has been a challenge ever since PHP’s founding in 1979. For many years one of our co-founders, Joan Wheeler, made a major gift to PHP every year. Towards the end of her life, she was providing 20% of PHP’s annual budget. Now that her annual gifts have ended, it is even more important that we try to recruit board members who can make significant financial contributions. The likeliest source of such individuals are our volunteers and their network of friends. We are consciously trying to cultivate our volunteers so that they become donors and that they help generate donations from their network of friends.
|Fiscal Year||July 01, 2016 to June 30, 2017|
|IRS Letter of Exemption|
|Indirect Public Support||--||--||--|
|Investment Income, Net of Losses||$14,305||$15,739||$69,988|
|Payments to Affiliates||--||--||--|
|Total Revenue/Total Expenses||1.05||1.03||1.02|
|Program Expense/Total Expenses||91%||91%||89%|
|Fundraising Expense/Contributed Revenue||6%||5%||11%|
|Total Net Assets||$613,060||$573,659||$550,145|
|1st (Source and Amount)||
|2nd (Source and Amount)||
|3rd (Source and Amount)||
|How many months does reserve cover?||4.00|
|Are you currently in a Capital Campaign?||No|
|Capital Campaign Purpose||not applicable|
|Capital Campaign Dates||-|
|Capital Campaign Raised-to-Date Amount||--|
|Capital Campaign Anticipated in Next 5 Years?||No|
|Current Ratio: Current Assets/Current Liabilities||19.57||18.23||17.03|
|Long-term Liabilities/Total Assets||0%||0%||0%|
Parents Helping Parents is very proud of the financial stability we have achieved. Our total net assets at the end of FY 2016 were $573,659. This is almost 150% of our annual cash revenues (excluding in-kind donations) of $388,436. These net assets were accumulated over many years and include a few large gifts PHP has saved as well as small surpluses we have generated during most of our existence. This prudence allows us to operate without a need for a line of credit and without worrying about how we might need to reduce our expenses in the event of a small operating deficit.
We are also proud of our heavy reliance on in-kind donations. Volunteer time accounts for 45% of our budget and donated meeting space for our support groups accounts for an additional 6%. When these in-kind gifts are combined with DCF and county sheriff contracts totaling $220,000, 79% of our budget is covered before we begin raising funds from individuals and foundations.
Despite our solid fund balance, we are constantly looking to expand our services and find new sources of revenue.
The Impact tab is a section on the Giving Common added in October 2013; as such the majority of nonprofits have not yet had the chance to complete this voluntary section. The purpose of the Impact section is to ask five deceptively simple questions that require reflection and promote communication about what really matters – results. The goal is to encourage strategic thinking about how a nonprofit will achieve its goals. The following Impact questions are being completed by nonprofits slowly, thoughtfully and at the right time for their respective organizations to ensure the most accurate information possible.
PHP’s Vision Statement was adopted by our Board of Directors on Jan. 17, 2008. It is the best place to start in order to understand our ultimate goals:
Parents Helping Parents will be well known throughout the state as a free and confidential resource, readily available to anyone raising children.
We will foster a society where parents and caretakers will feel comfortable asking for help. Parents/caregivers will improve their child-rearing skills by giving and receiving support from other parents. This will relieve stress, and break the cycle of neglect and abuse that may have occurred.
Parents and caregivers will become empowered to be better advocates for themselves and for other families.
Most people recognize that raising children is a demanding job. When a parent is frustrated with their child’s behavior and does not know what to do, most can call on family or friends for help. If the family situation is very serious, parents may seek individual or family therapy from a professional. However, some families do not have this support network. If you are a single parent, if you are estranged from your own parents, if you are new to a community, you may not have anyone to talk to or you may have exhausted the patience of your family and friends. When this happens, we are part of the social safety net that parents can turn to. Even though our services are open to anyone raising children, our target population is parents who are isolated and vulnerable.
Isolated and vulnerable parents are often involved in abusive relationships, substance abuse, and may suffer from mental illness. They tend to have suffered from childhood trauma and are disproportionately poor. This is a very difficult population to reach. One way we would define long-term success is if we become as well known as Alcoholics Anonymous as a place people can go for parenting help.
In the next three to five years we must become better known either by raising the funds for consistent marketing campaigns (e.g., permanent ads on public buses and subways) or by becoming a part of other public health awareness campaigns (e.g., gun violence prevention efforts). Raising our public profile will by itself have a major effect on society by informing people that there is a safe place to go to discuss parenting issues.
We have three inter-related strategies: the “wholesale strategy”, the “retail strategy”, and the “strategic alliance” strategy.
The wholesale strategy involves reaching out to health and social service organizations (e.g., birthing hospitals, community centers, preschools, etc.) and professionals (e.g., pediatricians, nurse practitioners, social workers, etc.) who also have a parent support mission. When we reach out to organizations, we are looking for collaborating partners who want to help us start a group or who will actively encourage parents to use our group or helpline services. We do not consider organizations that “tolerate us and wish us well” to be partners. We seek organizations that are enthusiastic about what we do and see their success linked with ours. When we find a collaborating partner, we nurture the relationship because these organizations come into contact with many families who might need our services. When we reach out to professionals, we will attend their annual conference as an exhibitor or communicate directly by mail. We offer brochures and flyers at no charge and encourage professionals to provide them to their patients and clients. Building relationships with organizations or professions requires patience. We must continually reach out in whatever way we can afford.
The retail strategy involves contacting parents directly. We make sure that we have posters in DCF and Juvenile and Family Court waiting areas where parents who are already involved with the child welfare system can learn about us. Many community centers and Family Resource Centers will also display our materials. However, the most effective retail strategy is “word of mouth” when one parent tells another parent about us. This “one person at a time” strategy may seem less efficient than the wholesale strategy. But when a friend tells you that something is worth doing, that is often far more persuasive than having a professional who you don’t know very well recommend a service.
A third strategy involves developing a strong, mutually beneficial, strategic partnership with an organization. After exploring this concept, we have been working closely with Wheelock College Social Work Department to develop such a partnership over the past year. Our goals are:
* Increase our visibility among social workers, mental health counselors, and practicing therapists by offering parents from our groups as classroom speakers on their involvement with the Massachusetts child welfare and juvenile court system;
* Introduce students to an organization that provides services on an anonymous basis;
* Obtain assistance collecting and analyzing evaluation data regarding our programs
* Offer field placement opportunities for students who seek experience in group facilitation, telephone counseling services, and/or not-for-profit management;
* Find a permanent host and partner for our Annual Forum on child welfare;
* Provide an opportunity for research that would lead to the mutual support group model being certified as “evidence based”;
* Identify a faculty member, staff member, or alumni willing to serve on the PHP board of directors;
* Obtain an introduction to individual donors who might be interested in supporting our mission.
Thus far PHP parents have participated in classroom discussions on parenting; Wheelock faculty have provided advice on program development and program evaluation; PHP provides a field placement for Wheelock social work students; Wheelock will host our Annual Forum for the fourth year in a row; and a member of the Wheelock faculty, Prof. Heather Howard, has submitted a research proposal to evaluate the effectiveness of PHP’s prison support groups. The proposal is being reviewed by the Institutional Review Boards (IRB’s) of Wheelock College and the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department. PHP and Wheelock College have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that establishes the framework for our continued collaboration.
PHP is uniquely positioned to reach out to isolated and vulnerable parents. Our philosophy and the way we operate immediately informs families that “PHP is different.” We do not take last names or addresses. We do not interview the family in order to diagnose its problems. In short, we do not do an “intake”. Instead we put the parent in charge. Whatever a parent wants to discuss is fine with us. If they don’t want to talk at all, that’s fine with us. Because the parent is in charge, they gradually become empowered – first to decide what to say and second to decide how they want to change their lives. Once the emotional support of the parent has been strengthened, a parent is better able to actively guide and nurture the family and deal effectively with parenting crises.
Our reputation for having the ability to develop a degree of trust among families who are isolated and vulnerable, allows us to find collaborating partners who want to develop more effective ways of engaging families. Our reputation also allows us to recruit volunteers who want to help people directly. Consequently, our network of collaborating partners and roster of trained volunteers constitute an important strength. In fact, without them, we could not do our work.
Another strength comes from our longevity. Over the past 44 years since our first group was established in 1972, we have become known among many professionals – pediatricians, therapists, child welfare workers, juvenile court judges – for the work that we do. In terms of parents accessing our services, our toll-free telephone number is listed in directories, newspapers, and web sites across Massachusetts. It would be extremely difficult to build our reputation and degree of public awareness starting from scratch. Even though most parents do not know about our services, enough parents and professionals do know about us that people in need will eventually find us.
Finally the parents on our board and the Parent Leaders in our groups are the backbone of the organization. They can articulate better than anyone what we do and why it is effective. When we take a position on a policy matter, invariably a parent takes the lead. Other organizations may claim to know what families need, but PHP is the only organization in the child welfare field in Massachusetts that puts the parent/consumer in charge. This insures that the services we provide and the public positions we take are grounded in the reality of parent’s experiences.
PHP’s Parent Support Group program operates within the framework of our logic model (see attachment). The logic model identifies three major areas that PHP groups are designed to affect:
1. Reducing social isolation by creating a well functioning group for parents to attend;
2. Helping parents become more resilient;
3. Helping parents improve their parenting skills.
Each year we ask parents who are attending group in the month of November to complete a “Parent Survey” about how well their group is functioning and the progress they believe they have made. The data collected can be linked to specific “protective factors” that child welfare researchers have correlated with reduced incidence of child abuse (Falconer et al., 2008). For example, the strengthening of the protective factor of “parental resilience” is reflected in parents’ response to the statement “I am able to ask for help when I need it.” Our goal is to achieve results that show these protective factors are strong and/or getting stronger. The results of our 2015 survey indicated that groups were functioning well and that parents were making significant progress in the three areas identified in our logic model. Questions related to social isolation showed the following:
I feel safe in group: 94% most or all the time
Facilitators build trust in group: 93% most or all the time
Other questions measured the progress that parents feel they made since they began attending group. Results below show the percentage of parents answering the questions “Most of the time” or “Nearly all of the time”:
I am able to ask for help when I need it: Before 42%; Now 74%; Change +32%
I know how to control my emotions: Before 42%; Now 83%; Change +41%
I can talk about what makes me angry: Before 43%; Now 76%; Change +33%
Results of our Parent Survey for the past five year is attached.
We have less data regarding the Parental Stress Line but we collect enough to know that we are having a positive impact in a significant number of calls. In 2015, 52% of callers were very upset at the beginning of the call but only 10% remained upset at the end of the call; 53% had a more balanced perspective on the situation; and 71% had a plan at the end of the call to take at least one action to improve the problem.
Qualitatively we can report that parents regularly provide testimonials about how much we help them. The most frequent comment is that they wished they had discovered us sooner because no one treats them the way we do.
Our long-term vision is for a society “where parents and caretakers will feel comfortable asking for help”. We believe that society is far better off if we work toward this goal even if attaining it is many years off.
Reaching out to parents who are isolated and vulnerable is inherently challenging. This group tends to be extremely wary of authority; they have often endured serious childhood trauma; succumbed to alcoholism and drug addiction; and experienced domestic violence. In 2015, 663 parents with 1,205 children attended our groups. In our annual survey of parents, 69% reported they had been abused or neglected as children. This group is at extremely high risk to repeat the pattern of abuse and indeed 69% reported that their children had also been abused or neglected. This data confirms that we are reaching our target population.
Since we started our first mutual support group in 1972, the most effective way of reaching out to families is word of mouth. But many parents are unwilling to take this initiative so we are always developing other strategies. One alternative is to make ourselves known within the child welfare and juvenile court system. Another strategy is to establish groups in prisons. Yet another strategy is finding organizations around the state who share our values and are willing to collaborate.
One significant obstacle we face is resistance to a mutual self-help recovery model. The very high value our society places on professional credentials may lead some people to be skeptical of a mutual support model. However, if the person needing help is isolated and wary of authority, an anonymous mutual support group may be, at least initially, the only viable way of providing help. Over and over parents tell us that they wish they had found us sooner because no one treats them the way we do. No one else provides them with the non-judgmental respect that they crave.
We have made important use of new technologies. For example, we have a web site that is easy to find and is easy to use on mobile devices. We have replaced our annual newsletter, with a quarterly e-newsletters. The trend toward hand-held devices has us considering whether we should develop a mobile “app” and how we should use social media.
Some day we hope that all social service agencies will be more willing to find ways of empowering parents so they can be true partners in developing a plan to strengthen their family and provide a safe home for their children. We will know when that happens because families will be willing to ask for help instead of being afraid as they are now.
Recently there have been many stories about DCF, beginning with the death of a five year old in a Fitchburg in 2013. One of our board members, Lisa, wrote about her experience with DCF which we submitted to the state legislative committee investigating DCF. As a result people are paying more attention to us. More important is that by fostering parent leadership, we are in a position to give voice to a community that often has no voice.