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August 2007Vol. 8, No. 7Interview: Powerful Families

Powerful Families is a parent education and family-strengthening program for low-income families that focuses on increasing financial literacy, advocacy, and community leadership. Developed by Casey Family Programs, Powerful Families has been piloted with 53 partner agencies in 82 sites in 9 States and the District of Columbia. At each site, groups of 15-20 parents meet for 9 weeks in peer- and partner-led groups to learn more about money management, advocating for themselves and their children, and effecting positive change in their communities.

Powerful Families Director Margaret Hunt talked with Children’s Bureau Express (CBX) to share some of the program's successes.

CBX: What is unique about the Powerful Families program?

Hunt: Powerful Families had an unusual beginning. About 5 years ago, Casey Family Programs conducted a survey among low-income populations with a high percentage of child welfare involvement. Families were asked about the kinds of education topics that would be helpful to them. Topics mentioned by parents were not the topics being covered by the popular parent education programs at the time. So, Casey designed the Parent-to-Parent Program, now Powerful Families, to cover the topics of financial literacy, advocacy, and leadership training to meet families' needs.

CBX: What are some short-term and long-term goals for the families involved in the Powerful Families program?

Hunt: Some of the short-term goals are to raise parents' information levels on such topics as loans and credit scores, help them learn to work within the system to get what they need, and show them how they can create change in neighborhoods and communities.

Long-term goals include supporting parents so they are able to maintain children safely in their own homes, helping parents combat social isolation by connecting with others, and building better communities for children and families.

CBX: How does this program work with the child welfare system?

Hunt: This is a child welfare prevention program. Over two-thirds of the partners are prevention groups contracted with child welfare agencies. Some of the others work in justice or incarceration. Many of the partners are those who focus on populations that have high numbers of families of color. They use the Powerful Families curriculum to strengthen their families and prevent entry into the child welfare system or to help parents gain the skills and attributes necessary to achieve reunification.

CBX: How do you identify community partners?

Hunt: The program was originally piloted in New York City, Seattle, and Los Angeles. The success of the program led to interest from other partners, and now there are many partners who contact Casey to collaborate on a Powerful Families program in their community. Casey prefers partners that work primarily with high-risk families "at the door of child welfare." This includes families already involved with child welfare and those at risk of being involved.

CBX: How is the Powerful Families curriculum tailored for specific populations of parents?

Hunt: This happens through the partners. For instance, a partner agency may set up a group just for kinship caregivers or single parents or even older youth leaving foster care. In that case, the parent leader of the group is someone who has that same experience and can relate the material and help the parents in the class make the connections that are meaningful to them.

The parent leader also helps keep other parents connected to the program. That is one reason for our high [more than 60 percent] graduation rate. Parents seem to like the classes because they can see how the curriculum applies to their own lives—how they can better save money, advocate for themselves, and become leaders in their community. Parents come back for more classes, and they bring their friends with them. Also, parents make connections with others and build their own support systems.

CBX: What's in the future for Powerful Families?

Hunt: Soon, we'll be launching a new curriculum on family dynamics, piloting that in 2008. In the evaluation area, we're planning to do more rigorous evaluations involving control groups. We're also hoping to work with more State CPS groups so that we can increase the positive impact for families.

To find out more about Powerful Families, visit the website at for toolkits, resources, evaluation reports, and more, or contact Margaret Hunt at 206-282-7300 or