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The Big Answer


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Infants, Toddlers and Families

a book by Martha Farrell Erickson and Karen Kurz-Riemer

(our site's book review)

A focus on what was wrong with children and families encouraged dependence on early interventionists and programs in days past. The focus now has changed to helping families to draw on their own strengths and resources for solutions. See Trusting Families to Help Themselves.

Focus on what was wrong with children and families encouraged dependence on early interventionists and programs in days past—here come the experts!
Focus on what was wrong with children and families encouraged dependence on early interventionists and programs in days past—here come the experts!

The authors—in Infants, Toddlers and Families—perceptively and competently address this change and what it means to agencies and families. Their insights about autonomy, parents being adversely influenced in their caregiving by their own parents’ child-raising errors, and the essential nature of support networks are unusually astute.

A mentor can be the key adult who makes a difference for a child so that he develops resilience, competence and wellbeing
A mentor can be the key adult who makes a difference for a child so that he develops resilience, competence and wellbeing

The key adult who makes a difference for a child so that he develops resilience, competence and wellbeing may be a member of the child's immediate or extended family, an adult friend of the family, a teacher, a pastor, or a youth leader. The critical thing is the child having access to this person.

Mentor supporting kids
Mentor supporting kids

One role of early intervention may be to work with the family to overcome obstacles that prevent the child from exploring freely. This is very important to the child's development. Read Maslow’s Toward a Psychology of Being.

The authors tell us that parents who form secure, healthy attachments with their children usually have faced the painful feelings they harbor from their relationships with their own parents, and they know the way they were parented has a powerful influence on their interactions with their own children. Parents stuck in the past, on the other hand, will lay their hang-ups on their kids and parent poorly.

Parents who form secure, healthy attachments with their children usually have faced their painful past feelings
Parents who form secure, healthy attachments with their children usually have faced their painful past feelings

It teaches compassion when one learns perspective taking, so parents need to learn this and then teach it to their kids when they start to relate to others.

Toddlers exert their sense of autonomy by saying "No!" Caregivers should ask, "Which book do you want me to read to you before nap time?” The key is to offer only two acceptable choices, and then let the child make the decision, and to not argue about nap time itself.

The authors say that informal support resources help families more than professionals and agencies. However, rather than discouraging formal agency personnel, this finding should encourage us to identify, understand, and work with rather than against these informal sources of support as we attempt to assist children and their families.

Parents do best when they have other sources of support from extended family, friends, and both informal and formal resources in their community, according to the authors. There is a delicate balance between stress and support. When our daily stress exceeds our available support, our childraising starts getting deficient, cold, or even abusive. There is a wealth of support for the idea that “social support from persons outside the immediate family, such as kin, friends, neighbors, and coworkers” is critical for effective family functioning.

The authors rightly cite parents’ need for sources of support from extended family, friends, and both informal and formal resources. If the support is sufficient, parents don’t get stressed out and do bad childcare, they say. Professionals need to help identify, understand, and work with these support sources rather than relying on direct interventions, since this works better, the research shows. So nothing in the world could help the parents—who are getting agency help—more than helping them to identify others like themselves who are very compatible with these parents, and then help them start an MC. Or at very least a babysitting co-op as an interim measure. It’s likely the agency would never again be needed by these parents. Better yet, the area in which the parents live would tend to have less need for agencies. Do the math.

But most parents don’t get agency help, yet their childcare needs are great. And the childcare help from “kin, friends, neighbors, and coworkers” which the authors cite as critical for effective family functioning is simply not there for countless families. We assume that agencies learn of the family having difficulties when that family can't afford paid childcare so either they let their kids get into trouble on the streets (which brings in agencies) since there's no one to watch them, or they use the latchkey kid option and this comes to agency attention. If the family could have afforded childcare costs, it is likely the agency would not be aware of the family, unless their involvement started when one of the parents ran afoul of the law due to drug abuse, DUIs, crime, etc. Childcare help from “kin, friends, neighbors, and coworkers” is seen as critical by agencies when parents cannot afford paid options, or can afford it and irresponsibly spend their money otherwise, letting kids fend for themselves.

When families can't afford paid childcare, they often use the latchkey kid option
When families can't afford paid childcare, they often use the latchkey kid option

There's a huge childcare problem in the U.S. whether or not parents are using paid care options. It has to do with high costs, low quality of care, serious inconveniences of available options that disrupt family functioning, high turnover and low quality of care workers, etc. Many parents are simply too busy to do good care—sometimes because their need for both parents to work to make ends meet keeps them away from their kids much of the time. Other times both parents want careers so they get the best care convenient for them so use—and the quality of what they choose is simply poor.

Childcare center caregiving varies widely with respect to quality and turnover
Childcare center caregiving varies widely with respect to quality and turnover

And those who cannot afford to buy childcare often get no help from the government or elsewhere, since lots of help has been legislated by the government, but this help is only 10-14% funded and there are huge waiting lists. Such families are on their own and often choose poorly and the kids or parents or both end up on agency roles.

Since parents that are on such roles are the least likely to have the support networks the authors find so critical (or they likely wouldn’t have come to the attention of the agency), how are they to help themselves or be helped? (Childcare funds may not be available to the agency to utilize to empower the family.) The answer, at first, is to help them to start and use babysitting co-ops to alleviate some of these no-support-network issues. After all, if poorer families need 1/5 of their income for childcare and some—like the family we’re discussing—just cannot afford that, won't it give them more time with their kids if they get free childcare by being in a co-op?

But only MCs (microcommunities) can get anywhere near a total solution to the optimal childcare we all want for our kids. See Why Register for an MC?.

Registering for MC search and match
Registering for MC search and match