Alana Dennis, MS, MT-BC, CCLS
SFFC State Director for Ohio/Pennsylvania
“Children don’t grow up in programs, they grow up in families and communities.” Urie Bronfenbrenner
Every April, our nation observes National Child Abuse Prevention Month to raise public awareness of child abuse and neglect. The theme of this year’s initiative is “Thriving Children and Families: Prevention With Purpose,” and highlights what it can look like when prevention efforts are guided by the need to build protective factors and provide support to children and families.
The Strengthening Families evidence-informed protective factors (Center for the Study of Social Policy), are a guiding philosophy of our efforts with the Safe Families for Children movement. Protective factors are conditions that when present in families and communities, increase the well-being of children and families and reduce the likelihood of maltreatment. Identifying protective factors helps parents find supports that allow them to parent effectively:
- Knowledge of parenting and of child and youth development
- Parental resilience
- Social connections
- Concrete supports in times of need
- Social and emotional competence of children
“The community must recognize that protecting children and creating resilient families is everyone’s job.”
Stable families are well supported by strong and cohesive neighborhoods and communities. We believe that empowering families to strengthen and support their own communities is crucial and impacts all aspects of life.
Our Safe Families for Children philosophy has been at the forefront of changing the child welfare landscape so that we focus not on “rescuing children” but rather on contributing to the support of the whole family. We have worked to truly see parents and partner with parents as we seek to come to their side in friendship. The Safe Families model is simple and beautiful- the power of radical hospitality to create a world in which children are safe and families are transformed.
In our befriending of families facing adversities, in our very act of opening our lives and homes to those who were otherwise strangers, we are able to offer spaces of safety and strength. We offer friendship, shoulder to shoulder, we do not “look down” – rather we say “lean on me for now.” We seek to see the strengths families present as opportunities. We remind families we serve that we are indeed more alike than we are different- just at different parts of our journeys.
And yet, we can work to go a bit farther and work harder to continue growing and doing more to fully realize the essence of reciprocity and mutuality in our relationships with families who are served through Safe Families for Children. As families seek to flourish, we must ask ourselves: do we see them as the experts in the determination of their own hopes and dreams?
This is a strengths-based, community-building and kingdom-oriented mindset.
We walk alongside families- families who are often isolated, economically disadvantaged, and otherwise “held down” by the systems of our culture. No one needs or wants to be rescued by us, they want to be treated equitably in order that they can be a meaningful contributor to their community. When we reimagine and co-create with families for our communities, we are working together to build a better world- where children are safe and families transformed.