Impact NW offers program to support first-time parents

by: Elizabeth Ussher Groff Gabrielle Johnsen and Shawn Pischel guide and train ten family-support workers who partner with first-time parents in developing goals, lifelong positive parenting skills, and relationships with community resources, in the Brentwood-Darlington neighborhood.

Becoming a first time parent is one of the hardest jobs in the world. Add the challenges of economic hardship, teen parenting, and sometimes a myriad of social and cultural obstacles, and you have a formula for a stressed family.

A program of Impact NW at the Brentwood-Darlington Community Center aims to support the best in families, and prevent the worst from happening.

The program, 'Healthy Start - Healthy Families', begins when families are screened by the Multnomah County Health Department at the hospital, right at birth. A parent or both parents can choose whether or not to participate in the support program that continues until the child is three years old. The program is for first-time parents only.

'Being a first-time parent is a full of new, scary, exciting, and anxious moments,' comments Gabrielle Johnsen, one of two program supervisors. Johnsen says her work as a family support worker with 'Healthy Start - Healthy Families' two years ago provided her with invaluable information for raising her own son, even though she'd had plenty of solid support from her husband Joshua.

After a year, she became a supervisor in the program, helping to train and provide support for those who work with families.

Shawn Pischel, also a program supervisor, has been with 'Healthy Start - Healthy Families' for eight years. She likes that the program is backed up with evidence of proven, successful outcomes. 'I have worked in this field for 34 years, and I've seen many different models for family support. What I really appreciate about this model is that the staff is able to create and continue long-term relationships with the families.'

She also appreciates the thorough staff training that contributes to the program's success. Having a nurse available for the families is another positive aspect of the program that appeals to Pischel.

The ten Family Support Workers at Brentwood-Darlington receive continued intensive training in child development, child health and safety, infant care, maternal and family health, and the role of culture in parenting. They also learn how to address possible issues of child abuse and neglect, family violence, mental health, and substance abuse.

For the first six months to a year after birth, each Family Support Worker makes a one-hour weekly visit to the home of each of their 15-25 assigned families; after that, home visits become bi-weekly or monthly. During two hours every week, Pischel and Johnsen sit down with each Support Worker so they can discuss how things are going with the families.

'We also work to connect families with sustainable systems - such as doctors, libraries, schools and community centers,' says Johnsen. 'The goal is for families to partner during the program, which enables them to become self-sufficient and empowered to keep their family healthy in a holistic way.'

Funding for 'Healthy Start - Healthy Families' comes from the Oregon Commission on Children and Families. Since 2003, Multnomah County has applied for and received grants from the Commission to provide 'Healthy Start -Healthy Family' programs based in several locations in Portland.

The Impact NW program at the Brentwood-Darlington Center serves about 250 families a year. Families at this site are predominantly Caucasian, Latino, African American, and Russian. The program is accredited by Healthy Families of America, and uses an evidence-based child development curriculum.

To learn more about this program, go online to: .