College of Health and Human Development professors Dr. Melanie Horn-Mallers and Dr. Kate Bono are helping local families manage stress and stay connected, thanks to a $122,819 grant from the North Orange County Public Safety Task Force. The Resilient Families Program (RFP), piloted at the CSUF Center for Healthy Neighborhoods, will be carried out in partnership with local school districts in the 2017-18 academic year. Additional funds are projected to expand the program throughout north Orange County over the next three years.
“Stress is a major epidemic for all American families, irrespective of race, culture, ethnicity, and socio-economic status. Stress literally gets under the skin and causes psychological and physical health problems. We’re helping families minimize stress and create nurturing households where children can thrive,” says RFP co-director Dr. Horn-Mallers.
“Children who develop the tools for resilience in the early childhood years, when brain development is the most rapid, are more likely to deal with challenges effectively and to be more successful in school and with social relationships,” adds Dr. Bono.
Resilient Families is a parent education program designed to increase connectedness, lower stress, and promote self-regulation for families with preschool and kindergarten-age children. Through ninety-minute workshops administered over a six-week period, parents and primary caregivers learn stress management and parent-child bonding techniques that help cultivate mindfulness in everyday family interactions. Children participate in play-based, parallel workshops that promote executive function—cognitive skills that enable planning, organization, and self-control.
Without strong parent-child ties and executive function skills, children experience diminished health outcomes, particularly children who grapple with chronic stress associated with living at or below the poverty line.
Many of these children live in nearby neighborhoods.
According to the Public Policy Institute of California, more than 25% of children in Orange County live in poverty. These children suffer from physical and emotional health problems and often struggle with academic performance. Simultaneous stressors—family turmoil, separation, substance abuse—exacerbates problems.
While RFP was created to serve at-risk children and parents, the program can help all families become more mindful and connected, regardless of socio-economic status.
Fullerton resident Maria Youmans agrees.
The 30-year old mother of three completed the Resilient Families Program at Topaz Head Start in Fullerton. Her two youngest children participated in classes led by Topaz teachers trained by Dr. Horn-Mallers and Dr. Bono. Youmans credits the program with helping her become a more present and patient parent.
“The Resilient Families Program taught me step to back and see things from my children’s point of view. I’ve learned to listen better. We’ve come together as a family playing the games we learned in the program,” says Youmans.
Recent HHD graduate Emily Yraceburu helped implement the program at Topaz. As an intern, Yraceburu coded data, facilitated children’s workshops, and conducted exit interviews. She also helped manage a Facebook group dedicated to the program.
Yraceburu believes the program’s supportive, noncritical approach is the key to its success.
“Parents are often judged harshly for what others perceive they’re doing wrong. The Resilient Families Program is effective in part because it helps bring about change in a constructive, non-confrontational way,” she says.
RFP will continue at Topaz this semester and will expand to another Head Start location along with multiple elementary schools in the Fullerton School District. By June, the program will have served nearly 100 families and provided community intervention experience to more than 10 HHD students.
“The Resilient Families Program creates community among parents learning a whole new approach to parenting. Children, of course, gain the positive outcomes of the parents. They also gain teachers who understand the material and infuse it into their day-to-day practices,” says Horn-Mallers.
“Cal State Fullerton students who work on the RFP project gain knowledge applicable to multiple careers that serve the community. They learn how to implement community based programs. They also learn about research methods used when evaluating programs,“ says Bono.
The Resilient Families Program was piloted at the CSUF Center for Healthy Neighborhoods in 2015. It served nearly 60 families in the first year and a half of its implementation.