In 2009, The Children's Work Group (CWG) of the City of Philadelphia was formed - co-chaired by Donald Schwarz, M.D. (Deputy Mayor of Health and Opportunity, and Health Commissioner for the City of Philadelphia) and Dainette Mintz (Director, Office of Supportive Housing) - with a goal of unifying efforts to best serve children experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity in Philadelphia. The Early Intervention (EI) Subcommittee of the Children's Work Group identified parenting training as a high-priority for families living in emergency and transitional housing.
The subcommittee, including Karen Hudson and Melissa Berrios from The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) Homeless Health Initiative (HHI) and Sandy Sheller and Susan Brotherton from The Salvation Army, was formed to research best practices in parenting programs and inform the EI committee. The group discovered that a number of different parenting programs were being used in emergency housing facilities across the city with no consistency, standardization, or evaluation of effectiveness.
Sandy Sheller of The Salvation Army and Karen Hudson of CHOP HHI having worked with families experiencing homelessness for many years, saw a need to help lay professionals work with these parents on parenting issues. Many parents residing in homeless shelters are mandated to attend parenting classes, and most score high on parenting tests given at the end of those trainings. Nevertheless, this intellectual knowledge often did not translate into changed interactions and behaviors with their children; especially when compounded by additional stress. Sandy and Karen concluded the need for a training that would empower parents to use new understanding of their backgrounds and cultural histories to assist in parenting rather than serve as a barrier. They believed that from understanding and reflecting on themselves and their children's feelings and needs, parents would be able to meet their children's needs in spite of any stress or challenge experienced in their lives.
Knowing that many mandated parenting programs were attended with strong resistance from parents who felt judged and penalized for their best attempts, Sandy and Karen sought to develop a program that parents would desire to attend of their own free will. Sandy and Karen developed a new user-friendly, empowerment-based, comprehensive parenting training curriculum that incorporated evidence-based practices, trauma-informed care, attachment theory, principles of Effective Black Parenting, and self-care practices. Susan Brotherton, Director of The Salvation Army Philadelphia Social Services Ministries, suggested that this new parenting curriculum be called, "Family Care," in order to send messages of empowerment to parents and de-stigmatize any negative connotations associated with other parenting skills classes. In addition, the term "parenting class" is never used but rather the focus is on "family care;" learning to take care of yourself in the context of taking care of your children.
In 2010, Family Care was successfully piloted at The Salvation Army Red Shield Family Residence Homeless Shelter with a group of approximately 12 mothers who voluntarily participated in the six-week program. The program was well received by the mothers, and they even wanted more! At the end of this pilot training, these mothers showed improvement in child-rearing attitudes which translated to becoming more empathic, sensitive, and involved with their children. Their understanding of appropriate child development was enhanced and there seemed to be a shift away from a belief and desire to use corporal punishment.
Following the positive outcomes of the pilot, the Early Intervention Committee of the City of Philadelphia's Children's Workgroup and the Office of Supportive Housing endorsed the program. The Office of Supportive Housing then funded the Family Care Training. Over 27 homeless and transitional housing sites throughout the city, a number of other sites working with families outside the OSH system, and over 90 case managers, program directors, and/or key staff working with parents and children have been trained to use this model.