Buffalo Promise Neighborhood's Caitlin Lenihan Talks Family-Centered Work

Posted February 21, 2018
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Buffalo Promise Neighborhood's Caitlin Lenihan Talks Family-Centered Work

Early Light Media for the Casey Foundation

As part of its Fam­i­ly-Cen­tered Com­mu­ni­ty Change work, the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion is part­ner­ing with com­mu­ni­ty devel­op­ment ini­tia­tives in three cities — Buf­fa­lo, Colum­bus and San Anto­nio — to inte­grate dis­con­nect­ed ser­vices for kids and adults. With an end goal of strength­en­ing fam­i­lies, this approach focus­es on enhanc­ing both the qual­i­ty of schools for chil­dren as well as job and par­ent­ing skills for adults.

In a new blog post series, Casey explores what Fam­i­ly-Cen­tered Com­mu­ni­ty Change looks like to the orga­ni­za­tions involved. This entry shares the per­spec­tive of Caitlin Leni­han, who serves as the direc­tor of Buf­fa­lo Promise Neigh­bor­hoods Two-Gen­er­a­tion Pro­grams in Buf­fa­lo, New York. Read our inter­views with prac­ti­tion­ers in Colum­bus and San Anto­nio.

Casey: What does fam­i­ly-cen­tered prac­tice mean to you?

Caitlin Leni­han: When I think about fam­i­ly-cen­tered prac­tice, three ideas come to mind: 1) con­sid­er­ing the goals of the whole fam­i­ly; 2) pro­vid­ing the tools that the whole fam­i­ly will need to achieve those goals; and 3) pre­sent­ing those tools in an inte­grat­ed and thought­ful man­ner for the whole fam­i­ly, ver­sus indi­vid­u­als with­in the family.

Casey: How has your view of this work evolved over time?

Leni­han: It’s become more expan­sive over time. We start­ed with a focus on one-on-one coach­ing, finan­cial edu­ca­tion and high-qual­i­ty ear­ly child­hood edu­ca­tion. As we began to put our mod­el into prac­tice, we learned more from the fam­i­lies about bar­ri­ers to goal achieve­ment we had­n’t yet con­sid­ered, such as hous­ing crises and undi­ag­nosed ear­ly devel­op­men­tal delays. We expand­ed to include hous­ing, health and edu­ca­tion­al resources.

Casey: What val­ues dri­ve this work?

Leni­han: Four val­ues dri­ve our work:

  1. The child is the cen­ter of our uni­verse. Ulti­mate­ly all of the work we do is to nur­ture, pro­tect, and pre­pare chil­dren for suc­cess in school and life.
  2. Par­ents have every­thing they need to be good par­ents before they even walk through our doors. They’re in the dri­ver’s seat, and it’s our job to lis­ten care­ful­ly to where they want to go.
  3. Inte­gra­tion, inte­gra­tion, inte­gra­tion. Hav­ing shared account­abil­i­ty and the right part­ners at the table is critical.
  4. Trust. Across all lev­els of work, be it par­ents and coach­es or pro­gram man­agers and part­ners, trust is essential.

Casey: Do staff need dif­fer­ent train­ing to be fam­i­ly centered?

Leni­han: Absolute­ly. The train­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties that Casey has pro­vid­ed through Fam­i­ly-Cen­tered Com­mu­ni­ty Change have made a huge dif­fer­ence in our staff’s abil­i­ty to under­stand and imple­ment a fam­i­ly-cen­tered approach. Because it’s a more com­plex approach, it takes dis­ci­pline to apply con­sis­tent­ly and with fidelity.

Casey: What is one com­mon mis­con­cep­tion that peo­ple have about fam­i­ly-cen­tered practice?

Leni­han: The biggest mis­con­cep­tion about fam­i­ly-cen­tered prac­tice is that it’s easy or that it’s a sim­ple method­ol­o­gy to imple­ment and sustain.

Casey: What advice do you have for oth­ers on adopt­ing a fam­i­ly-cen­tered practice?

Leni­han: Lis­ten to the fam­i­lies you serve, respect their knowl­edge and exper­tise, and lift up their role in advanc­ing the work.

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