Top-Rated Parent Support Program Helps Families Address Adolescent Behavior
Connect, a parenting skills and support program that receives grant funding and technical assistance from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, has earned a major mark of distinction. The California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare (CEBC) has evaluated the program “Well Supported by Research Evidence” — its highest rating available.
“Connect helps strengthen, repair and rebuild the bonds between parents and their preteens and teens,” says Vicky Kelly, executive director of the Connect Parent Group Network. Caregivers participating in the program “feel more hopeful and effective” notes Kelly, while the involved youth experience fewer “struggles with conduct and emotional problems.”
Partnership Focuses on Placement Prevention
The need for effective community-based programs that address adolescent behavior is urgent, according to Tim Decker, a senior fellow with the Casey Foundation’s Family Well-Being Strategy Group.
Each year, about 214,000 children and young people are separated from their families and placed in foster care. “Child behavior” is listed as the cause for nearly half — 46% — of such removals involving youth older than age 12.
Within this scenario, youth of color face worse outcomes than their white peers. Child welfare systems are more likely to separate Black and American Indian or Alaskan Native adolescents from their parents. Young people of color are also over-represented in the nation’s juvenile detention centers and justice system.
“One way to reduce over-reliance on juvenile justice and child welfare systems is to ensure there are effective, just and equitable alternatives when families struggle with developmental, emotional or behavioral issues with adolescents,” says Decker.
With Casey’s support, the Canada-based Connect program is expanding in the United States. Two sites — in Atlanta and Houston — are among the first in the nation to deliver Connect training. Both efforts, funded by Foundation grants, are led by historically Black colleges.
In Atlanta, the Prevention Resource Center at Morehouse School of Medicine is offering Connect training for Black fathers of adolescents. The sessions are run by Fathers Incorporated, a nonprofit that supports healthy bonds between fathers and their children.
In Houston, Prairie View A&M University’s Texas Juvenile Crime Prevention Center is providing Connect training to help families improve parent-child relationships and youth behaviors. The project has two partners: 1) Eight Million Stories, a nonprofit that helps out-of-school and formerly incarcerated young people complete their education, find employment and develop life skills; and 2) the Pro-Vision Academy, a state charter school offering career- and college-readiness programs.
“The Casey Foundation’s support for these HBCU-led initiatives recognizes the stark racial disparities in teen entries to the child welfare and juvenile justice systems,” says Leslie Gross, who directs Casey’s Family Well-Being Strategy Group. “These initiatives hope to show that evidence-based family support efforts, such as teaching parenting techniques, would be healthier for families and communities and certainly less traumatizing for youth than exposing families to system involvement.”
About the Connect Parent Program
Connect is a 10-week skill-building program that promotes social, emotional and behavioral adjustment and attachment security for youth between the ages of 8 and 18. It is currently offered in six languages with different versions available for parents, kinship caregivers and foster parents. Specialized support is also available for parents of adolescents who identify as LGBTQ.
Kelly identifies the goal of the program as strengthening families “to prevent system involvement of youth and to support successful reunification or kinship placements as youth return to the community.”
In group sessions led by certified facilitators, participants learn about adolescent development. Caregivers learn how to better respond to youth behaviors and emotions, and they practice parenting skills that yield results, according to journal articles reviewed and cited by the CEBC.
Marlene Moretti, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, developed Connect in collaboration with mental health practitioners and government stakeholders. Paraprofessionals, community advocates and health and educational experts must receive training and certification before offering the program in community agencies, schools, hospitals and mental health centers.
About the California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare
CEBC’s mission is to support the effective implementation of evidence-based practices for children and families who are involved in the child welfare system. To advance this work, the clearinghouse leverages peer-reviewed research to evaluate programs and practices and then shares its findings in a public database, which child welfare experts can use to locate and learn about different approaches.
Earning CEBC’s top rating can help Connect grow, according to Decker.
“The Connect training program’s recent CEBC rating assures communities and practitioners that there is empirical evidence of its effectiveness,” he says. “Hopefully, this will encourage more jurisdictions to consider using alternatives to family separation — and investing in proven prevention strategies that build strong families.”