Building Family Strengths by Connecting to Culture

family-engagement-Jaime-and-Joaquin-photosOne of the drawbacks of juvenile court systems is that they often struggle when it comes to connecting kids to their own cultural values. Yet helping the youth and their families do so can tranform families and support teens in living crime-free and drug-free lives.
The Reclaiming Futures site in Santa Cruz saw the need for a culturally-rooted family-strengthening program years ago and adopted an 8-12-week curriculum called Cara y Corazón (literally, "face and heart"), developed by Jerry Tello. After hearing about it for years, I finally had the privilege of seeing Jaime Molina, ASW, Project Director and Community Fellow for the Santa Cruz site, and Joaquin Barreto, MCHS, present the curriculum at the Building Family Strengths conference held in Portland in June. (In the photo above, Jaime is on the left; Joaquin on the right.)

What I saw was impressive. The curriculum focuses on strengthening the parent-child relationship. Lesson goals aim to re-integrate family traditions and values that support the unity and harmony of the family. Through the series, parents reconnect with their own personal, family and cultural strengths to create and maintain a balance to guide and support their loved ones in their daily lives.
The Cara y Corazón model -- which is aimed at individuals from all cultural backgronds -- focuses on helping parents and children express emotions, develop empathy, manage anger, and enhance the life skills necessary for functioning in today’s society. The program also integrates positive discipline approaches as a vehicle to fostering high self-esteem, self-discipline and social competence in youth.
Finally, parents are provided with a mechanism to connect with community resources and encouraged to form a multi-ethnic parent community support and action group to address common issues, which means their ability to make positive changes doesn't have to end when the workshop does.
family-engagement-Jaime-Molina-photoJaime and his colleagues have been practicing this approach for many years, but more consistently for the last 6 years. Their family strengthening approach has been taught in schools, residential programs, shelters, and community agencies and family resource centers. It is taught once a week, so that participants have the chance to practice new skills at home with their loved ones.
Today, the Santa Cruz site has a core group of approximately 20 to 30 curriculum facilitators who are continuously honing their skills through booster trainings and technical assistance, and continue to expand their efforts in schools, agencies, shelters, and in many community centers in Santa Cruz county and neighboring counties.
And -- here's the payoff from a Reclaiming Futures viewpoint -- they've been very effective in engaging hundreds of parents and families to act as mentors and/or natural helpers for their own children.
That's true community change for kids in the juvenile justice system -- and those at risk of entering it. 

Updated: March 21 2018