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April 2013Vol. 14, No. 3Maryland Family Network

As part of its effort to prevent child abuse and neglect, the Children's Bureau provides funding to States to develop, expand, and enhance community-based, prevention-focused programs that strengthen and support families. To receive these funds, governors must designate a lead agency to receive the funds and implement the program. One of the Bureau's community-based child abuse prevention (CBCAP) grantees is the Maryland Family Network (MFN). 

Maryland was one of the first States awarded a CBCAP grant in 1992. Linda Ramsey, Deputy Director of Family Support, said Maryland Family Network is one of the few nonprofits in the country that serves as a CBCAP lead for its State. "When I go to CBCAP conferences, I am struck with how many (child welfare) agencies in States take leadership roles. We're excited that Maryland has designated us as the lead for the program." She notes that one reason behind the program's leadership selection is its statewide network of Family Support Centers.

Maryland Family Network sponsors 21 Family Support Centers that offer comprehensive programs that serve young families, pregnant women, infants, and toddlers. Their emphasis is identifying and building family strengths. "Everything we do in those centers is about child abuse and neglect prevention," Ramsey added. MFN adapted Strengthening Families, a framework that advocates the promotion of protective factors (parental resilience, social connections, parenting knowledge, concrete support, and children's social and emotional development) to prevent child maltreatment.

The key to Maryland Family Network's programs is easy access and easy entry. Melanie Martin, Program Consultant, said any child from birth through age 3 and their parents, or pregnant women, can participate.

Seven of the Family Support Programs are Early Head Start models and for those seven, there are income and other requirements for enrollment and eligibility. Ramsey said MFN was creative with funding streams for those programs, using some State general funds, to maintain the flexibility to serve a small number of families who might be over Federal poverty guidelines but within that working poor gray area and could benefit from Early Head Start services.

Funds from Maryland's Race-to-the-Top Early Learning Challenge Grant will allow MFN to  transform two Family Support Centers in Baltimore into Community Hubs. Hubs will reach more families in the neighborhoods they serve through home visiting, services for child care providers, and assistance to families as their children make the transition to school.

One of the important features of Family Support Centers is transportation, removing the barrier to center participation. While 2,100 participating families throughout the State may not be a lot, Ramsey said the intensity of services provided prevents MFN from serving larger numbers. "Our programs are about children and parents together," Ramsey said. "Parents don't come in without children, or just drop off their children. These are programs designed to address the needs of parents and provide developmentally appropriate activities to bring parents and children together."

At Family Support Centers, staff work with parents to ensure that children receive immunizations on time. Children are screened for age-appropriate developmental milestones to identify delays early and link families with resources. Parents develop parenting skills, increased educational attainment through MFN's adult education programs, and work on self-sufficiency. They are achieving positive outcomes:

  • Of the 2,094 children under the age of 48 months who visited a Family Support Center at least three times last year, 97 percent had up-to-date immunizations, compared to 73 percent statewide in 2010.
  • Of the 2,094 children ages birth to 3 who attended a Family Support Center at least three times in 2012, 94 percent received at least one developmental screening using the Ages and Stages Questionnaire. Of these children, more than 96 percent were at or above the expected level of performance at each of the measures. The remaining 4 percent were referred to the Local Infants and Toddlers program for additional assessment.
  • In 2012, 3,749 individuals participated in formal and informal parenting activities, parent-child activities, and skill development training in family management. More than 90 percent of this group improved parenting behaviors and/or attitudes.
  • In 2012, 1,211 participants took part in adult education services. That same year, 889 participants took part in employment readiness activities. Of these participants, 50 percent received computer literacy instruction; 58 percent participated in job readiness activities; and 24 percent received job training, skill development, and/or work experience. Roughly 27 percent of participants enter the centers employed and 43 percent are employed 1 year later.

MFN's Family Support Centers are truly  community-based programs. MFN contracts with sponsoring agencies and local communities to operate centers. The strength of the program lies in the partnership with local agencies familiar with their communities and families. Partnerships are formed with a range of local agencies, such as Housing Authorities, community colleges, school districts, private nonprofits, hospitals, health departments, and more. When there is money for new centers, MFN releases a Request for Proposal (RFP) in communities without Family Support Centers. "People have to want these centers in their community and make a case for the need and willingness of the community to embrace and operate these programs. Centers belong to their communities and work best when the community takes ownership of them," said Ramsey. They are required to have an advisory board made up of parents and community partners who meet on a regular basis to give feedback and input on center activities.

Another innovative aspect of MFN programming is its 2-day Parent Leadership Institute. Two annual trainings are focused on parent advocacy, decision-making, communication skills, and other competences. After the training, parents are charged with serving in a leadership capacity within in their centers and their community. The Family Support Centers provide transportation to these events and a stipend for child care. "We believe these trainings are a critical piece of our programming," Ramsey added. 

Special thanks to Jean Mitchell, Program Director, Melanie Martin, Program Consultant, and Linda Ramsey, Deputy Director Family Support, for providing information for this article.