Parents AnonymousSM: Strengthening Families
Teresa Rafael, M.S.W., and Lisa Pion-Berlin, Ph.D.

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) is dedicated to preventing and reversing trends of increased delinquency and violence among adolescents. These trends have alarmed the public during the past decade and challenged the juvenile justice system. It is widely accepted that increases in delinquency and violence over the past decade are rooted in a number of interrelated social problems -- child abuse and neglect, alcohol and drug abuse, youth conflict and aggression, and early sexual involvement -- that may originate within the family structure. The focus of OJJDP's Family Strengthening Series is to provide assistance to ongoing efforts across the country to strengthen the family unit by discussing the effectiveness of family intervention programs and providing resources to families and communities.

Parents Anonymous, Inc., the oldest national child abuse prevention organization, is dedicated to strengthening families through innovative strategies that promote mutual support and parent leadership. Founded in 1970 through the joint efforts of a courageous parent who sought help in providing a safe and caring home for her children and a social worker who believed that parents are their own best agents of change, Parents Anonymous, Inc., currently leads a dynamic national network of affiliated community-based groups with weekly meetings for parents and children. Each year, approximately 100,0001 parents and their children come together in Parents AnonymousSM groups to learn new skills, transform their attitudes and behaviors, and create long-term positive changes in their lives. These weekly groups are led by parents and professionally trained facilitators and are free of charge to participants. While the parents are meeting, their children are usually engaged in specialized programs to promote healthy growth and development, and free child-care is provided in sites in which these programs are unavailable. Many State and local Parents AnonymousSM programs operate 24-hour telephone helplines to provide an immediate response to parents seeking help. Parents AnonymousSM also raises awareness and educates the public on critical issues and community solutions and joins with community, State, and Federal policymakers to promote effective services for families across America.

Parents or adults in parenting roles (e.g., grandparents, aunts, uncles, foster parents, stepparents, or older siblings) who are concerned about their parenting abilities and seeking support, information, and training are welcome at Parents AnonymousSM groups, whatever the age of their children or their current circumstances. Groups are ongoing and open ended; parents can join at any time and participate as long as they wish. Group participation is not restricted by age, educational level, income, problems experienced by the parents or children, or any other specific criteria. Because the groups are community based, participants mirror the ethnic, geographical, and cultural nature of their neighborhoods.

Parents AnonymousSM responds to the diverse needs of families (married or single parents, stepparents, teenage parents, and divorced parents) by providing group meetings in neighborhood family centers, churches, clinics, schools, housing projects, prisons, homeless shelters, and Head Start centers. In addition, group members discuss parenting concerns in English, Spanish, French, and several Southeast-Asian and American Indian languages. A Parents AnonymousSM group can become a valuable resource for any parent, regardless of culture or language, who is having difficulty providing a safe and caring home.

One Mother's Search Leads to Help for Hundreds of Thousands of Parents

The story of Jolly K., the founding parent of Parents AnonymousSM, is one that has provided hope and inspiration to thousands of parents throughout the country. In 1970, Jolly was searching for help in providing a safe and caring home for her two daughters and was particularly worried about her behavior toward her 6-year-old daughter. After many fruitless attempts to locate help in changing her behavior, Jolly was finally assigned to the caseload of Leonard Lieber, a clinical social worker at a California State mental health clinic. Jolly and Leonard met in traditional therapy sessions for several months. When Jolly expressed frustration about her lack of progress, Leonard encouraged Jolly to suggest alternative solutions. Jolly realized that if she could meet with other parents with similar problems, they could explore solutions together.

She and Leonard met with other mothers with whom he was working and who were also seeking to improve their parenting abilities -- Jolly led the discussion and Leonard served as a resource and facilitator. At the end of 2 hours, the parents attending this first meeting felt encouraged and hopeful and decided to continue meeting under the following guidelines:

Bullet They would make a commitment to stop behaviors they deemed unacceptable or abusive.
Bullet They would exchange telephone numbers and be available to each other day or night, especially in times of crisis.
Bullet They would meet in donated space and would welcome, free of charge, any other parents who wanted to attend.

In Redondo Beach, CA, they placed the first advertisement in a local newspaper, "For Moms Who Lose Their Cool With Their Kids, Call . . ." This gave birth to a national movement that has helped millions of parents and children all across America. Through their courage and tenacity, the parents in the first Parents AnonymousSM group demonstrated that, by helping each other, they could find the strength to become the parents they wanted to be. Jolly and Leonard began to speak to community groups and the media. They and others told the story of the significant positive changes that were taking place in families when parents participated in Parents AnonymousSM groups.

1 Based on information provided by the national network.

Parents AnonymousSM Juvenile Justice Bulletin   ·  April 1999