There is a powerful body of research indicating that one of the most important tools for improving the long term outcomes for children at risk because of violence and trauma in their families, is the family itself.
By strengthening the bonds between a child and their non-abusing parent (at SPAN, usually their mother), children experience enhanced well-being, greater feelings of safety and self-efficacy. The parent is empowered and experiences their own improvements in well-being and self-efficacy.
In SPAN’s Outreach Counseling Program’s routine program evaluation at the end of 2015, client focus groups elicited the feedback that there was a genuine interest among survivors for more holistic support for their entire family, and for more information and support around parenting skills. SPAN focused programming initiatives in early 2016 around incorporating more evidence based program activities that support these client-driven goals. What were once weekly support groups for adults have been transformed into Family Support Groups, with parents and children working together on projects, engaging in art therapy, and opening pathways towards greater understanding and communication.
Another important innovation that has developed through this family focus is bringing SPAN’s services to survivors and their children into the community. In early 2016 SPAN staff began offering Family Support Groups at the Family Learning Center, a child development and family support non-profit based in the San Juan El Centro affordable housing community in Boulder.
Perhaps the most important detail about this move was that it was prompted by and led by a SPAN client who resides at San Juan El Centro. This client, an immigrant from Nepal, had been trapped with her children in an intensely abusive situation, isolated and controlled in every detail of her life by her husband. She did not speak English and felt as if she literally did not have a voice. She eventually entered SPAN’s services, first finding refuge at Shelter with her children, and then engaging in the holistic array of support services SPAN provides. After a year of hard work, she had divorced her abuser, secured housing for herself and her children and had become English-proficient. When her children experienced bullying at San Juan El Centro, she reached out to SPAN’s advocates and asked them to intervene. Instead, SPAN’s advocates supported this survivor as she discovered just how fully empowered she had become.
The client worked with staff at both The Family Learning Center and SPAN to arrange Family Support Groups in her community, bringing together families from diverse backgrounds, who all share an intense interest in social justice, economic, racial and social equity, and building a better life for themselves and their children. The Family Support Group at San Juan El Centro has been so successful that SPAN moved its summer day camp program to the community. Previously SPAN ran one-week day camp programs for children in SPAN’s services during the summer. This summer staff from The Family Learning Center, SPAN’s Outreach Counseling Team, the Youth Violence Prevention Education Program, and SPAN’s summer intern from The Denver Foundation, worked together to create a 2-week day camp that combined standard day camp fun with social justice leadership development opportunities for low income middle and high school students.