Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 6:22 PM on Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Week of the Young Child — April 22-28

Focus of events is strengthening families to build a stronger community

By lolita brache

The Week Of The Young Child — April 22-28th —will be celebrated in Homer with many fun, free activities for families and young children. The list is long, reflecting the wide variety of organizations and individuals who care about kids in Homer. Watch for posters and ads or look at the resource website: www.pop411.org for updates on scheduled activities. (A schedule of events also is included on page 15 of today's paper.)

Families First: A Best Beginnings Partnership works with others in the Homer area to advocate for those things that will help strengthen families. We know that the early years are the most important in a child's growth and development. It also can be a very stressful time for a young family. A national initiative called Strengthening Families has a research-based approach to support families. It has identified five very specific "protective factors" that help parents raise happy, healthy children. Communities can help families by encouraging and nurturing these protective factors.

The research on these protective factors has shown that they can prevent child abuse and neglect. But these are not just for "at risk families" — these are assets all families need. And just as parents can support or neglect their children, a community can either support or neglect its families. We can choose to create a strong community with strong families.

Let's take a quick look at the protective factors (and just a few of the great things already available in Homer).

Parent Resiliency: Parents who are emotionally resilient are able to maintain a positive attitude, creatively solve problems and effectively rise to challenges in their lives. (What helps: employers who are "family friendly," higher education levels, access to affordable medical and mental health care, parent support groups and faith communities)

Social Connections: Extensive evidence links social isolation and child maltreatment. Parents are supported by relationships that are positive, trusting, reciprocal and that embody child-friendly values. (What helps: family-friendly play spaces, restaurants, museums, educational events, family activities, i.e. Wynn Nature Center, Nature Rocks Homer, the Pratt Musuem, the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies and library story hours.)

Knowledge of Parenting and Child Development: Understanding the developmental stages their children are working through is one of the most important tools parents have as they make parenting choices. (What helps: parenting classes, information shared by child care providers, Head Start, Sprout home visitors, Parents as Teachers program, resources at the library, family doctors and mental health counselors.)

Support in Times of Need: Everyone needs this. Where do you turn when you have a crisis? Of course, we have seen Homer step up when there is a house fire, or a medical emergency. We have an amazing community in this way. Still, we can ask, what else could be done to help families in need? (What helps: Share the Spirit, Haven House, The Center, Crisis Pregnancy Center, churches and Pop411.org.)

Children's Healthy Social and Emotional Development: Children's social and emotional development begins from the moment parents bond with their infant. Participating in child care or preschool activities is important to develop new social and emotional skills. Research has shown that these skills are more important for school success than learning letters or numbers prior to kindergarten. (What helps: Head Start, playgroups, dance and movement classes, parenting classes, Parents as Teachers and preschools.)

Do you have other ideas about what helps? Join our conversation. On April 28, we will have a Community Café to look at what works and what we could be doing differently. Our professional facilitator, Charlie Johansen-Adams has been to Homer before to help with MAPP and Strengthening Families work. The Families First collaborative group will soon be writing goals for our fourth year. Help us determine our next projects. Join us at the Christian Community Church/Kachemak Kids on Saturday, April 28, from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Lunch will be provided and free child care will be available in the Kachemak Kids classrooms. Help with transportation also is available. Please call 299-0694 for more information.

Lolita Brache is a co-chair of the Families First: A Best Beginnings Partnership. She also teaches GED and ESL classes at Kachemak Bay Campus. Lolita is also on the board of Kachemak Kids Early Learning Center.