Instances of abuse and neglect have severe short and long term consequences for both the children and families who are directly involved, and for the community at large. These consequences include, but are not limited to, immediate physical harm to the child resulting in broken bones, disability, sensory impairment and health. Long term effects of intellectual and social impairment of the child, societal effects of juvenile delinquency and resulting criminal behavior, mental illness and substance abuse, abuse of future generations (the cycle of abuse) and staggering financial costs associated with child abuse cases once they enter the State’s Child Welfare System.
The target population for our Neighborhood Place services are families who are at-risk for child abuse and neglect in the communities of Waiʻanae, Kalihi, Waimanalo, on the island of Oʻahu; the districts of Puna and Kona, on the island of Hawaiʻi; Wailuku and Kahului, on Maui; and the communities of Waimea and Kapaʻa on the island of Kauaʻi. These areas have been identified by the State’s Department of Human Services as being high-risk for child abuse and neglect due to the average family income level of each location, as well as the volume of calls received by Child Welfare Services (CWS) intake offices located in each of the respective regions.
A major component to the success of services is the fact that any family, regardless of circumstances or referrals, can obtain services. Most families have a six-month relationship with a Neighborhood Place, with an option of ongoing support for up to a year. Though the Neighborhood Places are able to develop services that reflect the needs of their respective communities, they all provide the following core activities:
Referral & Linkage: NP’s maintain a community resource bank which allows them to develop alternative resrouces for families and linking them to quality programs and services.
System Navigation: NP’s provide families with assistance in accessing support services such as affordable housing, public assistance, legal services, and will help families determine their eligibility for resources such as Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), etc.
Service Provider Coordination/Collaboration: The NP’s regularly host or participate in provider associations that focus on identifying gaps in services, ensuring financial resources for social service activities, supporting services for children and families, advocating for the wellbeing of children and families, and evaluating the effectiveness of services.
Family Safety Assessments: Assessments are based on both risk factors for abuse, and protective factors for promoting positive family development. Individualized Program Plan (IPP) are developed with families to accurately identify serious risk factors, such as domestic violence, substance abuse, maternal depression, etc. Family service plans are completed with all families with the primary focus of increasing protective factors that will mitigate risk factors for abuse. These plans are reviewed and revised with the family on an ongoing basis (at least every six weeks).
Parent Education: To promote positive child development, NP’s offer parent education classes, or refer families to classes in their community. NP’s also host workshops on specialized topics that bring parents together with relevant issues, provide support groups for parents with children of like ages and/or similar issues, and engage in one on one role modeling.
Coaching & Counseling: Kukakuka (talk story) sessions are offered to all families who are either receiving services, or who are interested in enrolling in services. These informal counseling sessions allow NP staff to obtain feedback from clients on a regular basis, as well stop provide clients with support and advice as they work to complete the goals outlines in their IPP’s. NP’s will also facilitate family meetings, ʻOhana conferencing sessions, parent/teen mediation, and marital counseling as needed.
Family Support & Outreach: NP’s help families respond to crisis situations such as substance abuse, domestic violence, and mental health issues. NP staff act as role models for parents by providing positive parenting tips, and building empathy with clients.
Community Engagement: The NP’s work to ensure that fa lies feel connected to their communities. Examples of projects can include family outings to playgrounds, skateboard parks, gardens, community outreach events, family potlucks, etc.
Public Awareness: NP’s develop targeted campaigns to address the following:
Communication needs to connect families to communities in positive ways and to build societal responsibility for the children;
Informing the public on best practices in child development (the right understanding of child development can lend support to beneficial policies);
Promoting the acceptance that parenting is a tough job and does not come naturally, and; Building support for programs that provide parent education and help connect families to communities.
Protective Factors for Promoting Healthy Families
The Neighborhood Place approach to service delivery is deeply rooted in a nationally recognized standard for promoting strong families, known as the Protective Factors. Protective factors are conditions in families and communities that, when present, increase the health and well-being of children and families. They are attributes that serve as buffers, helping parents who might otherwise be at risk of abusing their children, to find resources, supports, or coping strategies that allow them to parent effectively, even under stress. Currently, the six protective factors are:
Nurturing and Attachment: A child’s early experience of being nurtured and developing a bond with a caring adult affects all aspect of behavior and development. When parents and children have strong, warm feelings for one another, children develop trust that their parents will provide what they need to thrive, including love, acceptance, positive guidance, and protection;
Knowledge of Parenting and of Child and Youth Development: Discipline is both more effective and more nurturing when parents know how to set and enforce limits and encourage appropriate behaviors based on the child’s age and level of development. Parents who understand how children grow and develop can provide an environment where children can live up to their potential. Child abuse and neglect are often associated with a lack of understanding of basic child development – or an inability to put that knowledge into action. Timely mentoring, coaching, advice, and practice may be more useful to parents than information alone;
Parental Resilience: Resilience is the ability to han doe everyday stressors and recover from occasional crisis. Parents who are emotionally resilient have a positive attitude, creatively problem solve, effectively address challenges, and are less likely to direct anger and frustration at their children. In addition, these parents are aware of their own challenges – for example, those arising from inappropriate parenting they received as children – and accept help and/or counseling when needed;
Social Connections: Evidence links social isolation and perceived lack of support to child maltreatment. Trusted and caring family and friends provide emotional support to parents by offering encouragement and assistance in facing the daily challenges of raising a family. Supportive adults in the family and the community can model alternative parenting styles and can serve as resources for parents went they need help;
Concrete Supports for Parents: Many factors beyond the parent-child relationship affect a family’s ability to care for their children. Parents need basic resources such and food, clothing, housing, transportation, and access to essential services that address family-specific needs (such as childcare, health and mental health care) to ensure the health and well-being of their children. Providing concrete supports, information, and access to community resources that families need is critical. These combined efforts help families cope with stress and prevent situations where maltreatment could occur; and
Social and Emotional Competence of Children: Just like learning to walk, talk, or read, children must also learn to identify and express emotions effectively. When a child has the right tools for healthy emotional expression, parents are better able to respond to his or her needs, which strengthens the parent-child relationship. When a child’s age, disability, or other factors affect his or her needs and the child is incapable of expressing those needs, it can cause parental stress and frustration. Developing emotional self-regulation is important for children’s relationships with family, peers, and others.
Research has found that successful interventions must reduce risk factors and promote protective factors to ensure the well-being of children and families. Promoting protective factors is a more productive approach than reducing risk factors alone because:
Protective factors are positive attributes that strengthen all families, not just those at risk, so families do not feel singled out or judged.
Focusing on protective factors, which are attributes that families themselves often want to build, helps service providers develop positive relationships with parents. Parents then feel more comfortable seeking out extra support if needed. This positive relationship is especially critical for parents who may be reluctant to disclose concerns of identify behaviors or circumstances that may place their families at risk.
When service providers work with families to increase protective factors, they also help families build and draw on natural support networks within their family and community. These networks are critical to families’ long-term success.