Our First Year; Why Putting an Emphasis on Parents is Important to Us
By Payton Johnson
As any parent knows time flies; one minute your children are in diapers playing with stuffed animals and the next they are asking to borrow the car. Although a lot less scary than a child growing up; we have grown as an organization in our first year and the changes are huge. Everything from our staff to our reach across the state has expanded and continues to grow and get stronger.
Perhaps you noticed our name change? If you haven’t noticed that “PA Family Alliance for Children’s Services” changed to “PA Parent and Family Alliance” this article will focus on the vast and rapid growth we have undergone in our first year and why ultimately adding “parents” to our name was an essential change.
Our original name caused confusion as many people wondered what services we provide for children. While our end goal is for children and young adults to get the attention and services they need in order to flourish, the avenue by which we achieve this is through empowering parents. By educating, supporting, and empowering a child’s primary caregiver we are able to serve the entire family, including the children. We want to have parents share their stories and speak up in order for them to not feel like they are alone and work to make the systems that serve our needs more family-friendly.
It is important to emphasize that we recognize and appreciate all “kinds” of families and parents. We do not only view a “parent” as the people who biologically have a child. To us, a parent is anyone who is the primary caregiver to a child or young adult and gives that child the love and support they need. We have worked with families where a grandparent, aunt, uncle, neighbor, or sibling is the primary caregiver of the child. Each and every one of these primary caregivers are who we are talking about when we say “Parent” and we welcome all of them. At the end of the day, all youth need love and support and if you provide that for them and make sacrifices to ensure their safety and happiness, you are a parent and a blessing in their life.
With our mission set on growing our reach, in our first year we hired six Pennsylvania family members who have raised or are raising a child with a social, emotional, behavioral, or mental health challenge. These family members are from every corner of the state and use their own experiences and our collective knowledge to make connections with other parents in historically underserved sections of the state. These Outreach Assistants have been strategically placed to include our rural populations, as well as English Language Learners (ELL). We want to ensure that neither location or a language barrier get in the way of our families being heard and represented.
Another addition to our organization is the creation of a Coordinating Council which allows us to partner with organizations who have similar missions; working in the mental health or drug and alcohol field, or serving children, youth and young adults. Several organizations have already agreed to work together and we welcome the opportunity to add more. Organizations who are interested should visit our website for more information.
The first year included the start of a website, a social media presence, and our blog. With an online presence established we have been able to connect families, share vital resources for parents in need; and share the stories of many brave individuals who have gone through adversity and are using their story to help others feel less alone. Our blog posts have featured the story of a powerful trans woman who wanted to tell her coming out story and advise parents on how to protect their children’s mental health during their journey, a self-taught CEO who has raised a daughter with agoraphobia and is now in her second round of parenthood as she is raising her grandchildren, a college student with bipolar disorder who wanted to share how you can prepare your own children for the drastic change of college, and much much more. We put a strong focus on unity, empowerment, and ensuring parents know they are not alone.
Our first year has seen immense growth, but we are nowhere near done growing and expanding our reach to connect parents across the great state of Pennsylvania. If you would like to be a part of this movement click here to become a member. Members have early access to blogs delivered directly to your inbox as well as opportunities to network, have your voice heard, and stay informed. It is a very exciting time to be a part of PA Parent and Family Alliance. We will always be in the corner of parents and invite you to be part of our future growth.