Handbook of Psychological Services for Children and Adolescents

By Jan N. Hughes; Annette M. La Greca et al. | Go to book overview

6
Caring for the Caregivers
Supporting the Well-Being of At-Risk Parents
and Children through Supporting the Well-Being
of the Programs That Serve Them
VICTOR J. BERNSTEIN
SALLY CAMPBELL
ADRIENNE AKERS

In the study of children born at environmental risk, one of the most widely replicated findings is that a nurturing relationship between the child and his or her primary caretaker protects the child from the powerful negative influences of being born into concentrated poverty (Rutter, 1990; Werner & Smith, 1992). This finding holds for poverty and its many associated risk conditions, such as adolescent parenting and parental substance abuse. Strengthening the parent-child relationship is now a primary program goal of a wide variety of primary prevention and early intervention programs (Barnard, Morisset, & Spieker, 1993; Bernstein, Hans, & Percansky, 1991; Bromwich, 1997; Paulsen, 1993; Van Breman & Graziano, 1997; Weston, Ivins, Heffron, & Sweet, 1997). Increasingly, home visiting and family support program personnel are beginning to recognize that direct service staff (primarily home visitors) need to develop a positive, supportive relationship with the parents if they are to be of help to children (Barnard & Morisset, 1995; Bernstein, Percansky, & Weschler, 1996).

Developing such a relationship is easier said than done. Because poverty packs tremendous power, information and education programs targeting poor families often are ineffective (Mahoney, Boyce, Fewell, Spiker, & Wheeden, 1998; Seitz, 1990). Not surprisingly, just like many families, these programs may become swept up by many of the problems associated with poverty. Rather than keeping the focus on the well-being of the child and nurturing parent-child relationships, program staff become distracted by the families' immediate needs and lose sight of their priorities. Home visitors who try to help families cope with their multitude of problems gradually begin to resonate with these problems. This pattern typically

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