PHOENIX – An understanding of the U.S. education system can increase parent involvement, but it’s not the only factor. Economic pressures, basic parenting skills and parents’ relationships with their children must also be addressed, according to Julie Rosen, executive director of the parent-support group Parenting Arizona.
The nonprofit organization, affiliated with the community development corporation Chicanos Por La Causa Inc., sponsors 10-week programs targeting parents with children under 5 years old, mostly from low-income or at-risk families referred by Arizona Child Protective Services.
About 1,730 parents participated in the program in 2010, and most – about 38 percent – were Hispanic, according to the group’s statewide evaluation report.
In addition to classes, Parenting Arizona makes home visits and sponsors community outreach, Rosen said. It promotes factors like early childhood literacy, parent employment, school readiness and what Rosen calls “positive parenting.”
“We teach parents to use a lot of verbal praise,” Rosen said. “Right now, the evidence is showing … that the more positive a family is, the better it is going to be for all of them.”
When parents need help with financial or psychological difficulties, Parenting Arizona can refer them to programs such as counseling sessions or Arizona’s low-income health care program, the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.
“We have a very holistic view of what the family needs,” Rosen said. “We don’t provide all those services, but we refer them out whenever the need exists.”
Jenni Goodman, an educator with Parenting Arizona, said reaching out to parents when their children are young can change a child’s educational opportunity and achievement for the better.
“When we target that very young population, it helps change and shape the rest of their lives,” Goodman said. “It lays the foundation for all our future relationships.”
Most parents need more than just information to support their children, she said. Some suffer from substance abuse problems while others simply can’t find steady employment, and finding the right services makes all the difference, she said.
Eugene Garcia, vice president for education partnerships at Arizona State University, calls programs like Parenting Arizona the “bi-generational approach.”
“You enhance the economic opportunities and capabilities of the family while at the same time making sure the child gets all the educational opportunity and their family is working as a partner,” Garcia said. “Those are the kinds of things that tend to make a difference.”
But Goodman said she sees a lot of distrust from the Latino community. She attributes it to the fear that seeking community services will lead to questions about a family’s immigration status – something Parenting Arizona never considers, she added.
“I think if that fear wasn’t there, we would have a much bigger turnout,” she said. “We would have a much bigger interest from that community.”