Two Examples of Parents AnnonymousSM Programs
Juanita Chávez, M.S.W., A.C.S.W.

Parents AnonymousSM Serving Hispanic Families in East Los Angeles

The majority of people who live in East Los Angeles are Mexican, and theirs is one of the oldest Mexican communities in the United States. Residents include recent immigrants (documented and undocumented) and members of families who have been in this country for two, three, four, or more generations. Many families settled in this area long ago and remained here, often with several generations living in the same community. In addition to the Mexican and Salvadoran residents residing in the immediate area, Salvadoran residents from down-town Los Angeles also use the culturally relevant services in East Los Angeles.

Some immigrant parents do not understand the laws regarding child protection and may become involved with child welfare agencies or law enforcement officials regarding their treatment of their children, particularly around the use of disciplinary practices. This creates resentment and a sense that their role as parents is being undermined by outside influences. Because some immigrants are undocumented, there is the additional fear that the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) will deport them if they become involved with public social service agencies or law enforcement.

Poverty is another issue facing many families in East Los Angeles. Parents who are undocumented immigrants often must work in jobs that pay less than the minimum wage. In many families, including those of immigrants and long-term residents, both parents are wage earners, but the family income remains at or below the poverty level. It is not unusual for older children to have jobs to help support their families. To stretch their resources, several generations often live together in one house.

Parents Anonymous, Inc., has joined with a social service agency located in East Los Angeles to provide a Parents AnonymousSM program there. Most of the agency's employees are bilingual and bicultural, and many are intimately familiar with the community.

The agency initially provided parent education classes, and staff members observed that some parents attended several sequential series of classes. After talking with them, the staff realized that these parents were using the classes to meet their long-term needs for support and continued growth as they made critical changes in their lives. Parents reported they preferred not to repeat parent education classes, because of the structure and fixed curriculum, but it was their only option for involvement with others.

In response to the needs of families in the community, a Spanish-speaking Parents AnonymousSM group was developed and based at the affiliated social service agency, which is located near public transportation and has ample room for both the parent group and the children's program. The children's program is provided by agency staff. Parents Anonymous, Inc., provides training, program materials, outreach and referral, and ongoing support for the program.

Other agency staff refer parents they work with to the Parents AnonymousSM program. In addition, the agency uses culturally appropriate outreach and recruitment materials and distributes them in schools and the community. All materials clearly state that the Parents AnonymousSM program is conducted in Spanish.

Parents AnonymousSM Serving American Indian Families in Montana

Montana has seven reservations that are home to several different Indian tribes. Unemployment on these reservations is as high as 89 percent, with the result that most families live below the poverty level. To pursue greater job opportunities, parents often have to leave the reservation and their extended family, so the cost of remaining close to family members can be very high. Inadequate housing is another major issue facing many families. Sometimes, several generations of one family live in a small house that may not have indoor plumbing, electricity, or other conveniences that are common outside the reservation. Given the high level of stress, it is not unusual for families to move from house to house because of intrafamilial conflicts. In addition, as in the general population, issues regarding substance abuse cause stress in the American Indian community.

This Parents AnonymousSM program began when a social worker, acting as a community organizer, identified key leaders in the community and invited them to a 2-day conference to develop responses to the needs of families on Montana reservations. She worked closely with tribal chiefs and elders and used her own familial contacts and those of her colleagues to build stronger connections between attendees. Because of her age and life experience, the community organizer is a respected elder, and this increases her credibility. Thus, development of the Parents AnonymousSM program gained significant benefit from the support of elders, chiefs, and tribal councils. More than 250 participants attended the conference and agreed to work together to create additional programs to help strengthen families.

Tribal councils are significantly involved in the development of local Parents AnonymousSM groups in Montana. For example, they help identify locations that will be most inviting for parents. By their involvement, they sanction Parents AnonymousSM groups in their communities. Other (mostly government) agencies that are working with American Indian families are excellent referral sources. Parents AnonymousSM also helps families use other services. Because of these close relationships, staff cooperate with each other and with families to help coordinate available services and to ensure that Parents AnonymousSM continues to be recognized as a vital community resource.

On one reservation, a healthcare clinic sponsors the Parents AnonymousSM group through the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The group meets in a local Catholic church, but the facilitators are employees of the clinic. The program also provides meals for both parents and children. This use of the traditional "breaking of the bread" is an excellent strategy to recruit and retain families.

For American Indian families in Montana, cultural norms regarding elders as leaders sometimes create discomfort regarding formal identification of parent group members as parent leaders. Therefore, the Parents AnonymousSM model is implemented with a change in title for the parent group leader; while maintaining a high commitment to the principle of parent leadership, parent leaders may use the title "parent helper" instead.

The high level of poverty makes it hard to recruit volunteers for the program. Many members of the community are so focused on meeting their basic needs that they have little time or energy to commit to volunteer work. Mostly, agency staff and tribal council staff facilitate each group. Moreover, paid staff provide childcare and limited transportation to group meetings and to other family-oriented cultural events on the reservations.

Among the American Indian families living on reservations in Montana, cultural norms dictate a reluctance to seem too intrusive to another person by maintaining direct eye contact. To encourage parents to attend, and to lessen the need for constant eye contact, American Indian groups in Montana incorporate many creative activities into their meetings. For example, a group on the Blackfoot Reservation quilts and sews together while they discuss their children and families. This activity gives parents something to look at, lessens eye contact, and thereby avoids feelings of intrusiveness.

Also, as many people know each other so well, they are often already aware of the primary issues each family is facing and may know each other's family members. For example, a parent may make a brief statement, sometimes using only the first name of a child, "Georgie." Another parent may acknowledge they understand what the first parent is thinking and support them by saying, "Ah, that Georgie." Still another parent might join in the conversation and say, "My Michael is doing the same thing." Each member of the group may be fully aware of the concerns felt by the other parents. Then, a fourth parent might say, "When my child had this problem, this is what I did . . . ." Because the group meets in a very small community where people know a lot about each other's lives, they do not need to say much to each other to share their feelings and information.

Parents AnonymousSM Juvenile Justice Bulletin   ·  April 1999