The Work of Family Support:

Then & Now

A Look Back: North Seattle Family Center

When Washington State Representative Ruth Kagi was a Children’s Trust Board member, she interviewed North Seattle Family Center’s Program Coordinator, Mary Bristow, for the Spring 1993 edition of WINGS. Their conversation highlights the importance of family support centers and the reason for our 27+ years of commitment to providing parents with educational resources and much needed support. Here is their story:

Why do families come to family support centers?

Support groups are appealing to families, especially parents who are just beginning and experiencing all the new things that come with parenting. It’s new, exciting, stressful, and challenging. Others are attracted by parenting classes to help focus on a particularly challenging area of parenting.

I think about one particular woman who came in initially through the Woman, Infants, and Children program to get vouchers and found out what was going on here and signed up for several classes. After the positive discipline class, she shared, “when I came to take this class, my family was feeling out of control. As a result of this class, I’m feeling more in control and like things are heading in a positive direction.”

For a lot of folks who come and take a class, or who spend any amount of time here, even if it’s just coming once a week for parent-activity time, it’s a start of making connections with other people. That’s what we want to be doing.

What activities do parents value most?

I think the classes that have been most helpful or allow the most change are the five-week class on positive discipline and the eight-week class on developing as capable people. Relationships form within those classes and people are able to come back and talk about what they learned from the week before or what insight they have into their own relationships and how that affected the change in their behavior.

With many of our activities, we’re reaching a diversity of families. A mix is definitely there—a mix of income, of situations. There is something nice about having that mix together, not just something that’s geared only toward a certain group of people.

Why do you think family support is important?

All families need support, which can be as simple as connecting with another person who has a child similar in age to talk to, call on the phone, or meet with at the family support center once a week. Family support really is a whole continuum of support—everything from assistance with basic needs, to parent training, to enrichment classes, to support groups, and to being able to talk about how parenting isn’t what you thought it was going to be.

Everybody is part of a family, even people who do not have kids. You grew up in a family and you know what being in a family is all about. There is a place for you here—there is a place that you can be involved. Family support is inclusive and recognizes that we all need support.

An ever Present Need: Family Support Centers

In 2010, Sue Siegenthaler, Program Manager at Seattle’s NewHolly Family Center, sat down with Francesca Kubo to address the same essential questions about their work.

Why do families come to family support centers?

Families come to us with a specific need—be it a job application, paperwork, community connections, parenting classes, ESL classes, tutoring kids, etc. We find that these needs change once families understand what we offer. As they get to know staff, they become comfortable and feel like they can ask anything of us.

What activities do parents value most?

The relationship between providers and participants is most valuable—even more than our activities. We have so many families looking to build bridges within their community. We help them connect with neighbors, teachers, and other critical relationships. For example, we have support group activities so that families can work and talk together. Parents value programs that offer their kids information and support that they sometimes may not be able to provide, like college campus visits and help connecting with people at their child’s school.

Why do you think family support is important?

Much of our society these days treats young people as if they were separate from their parents. The child is seen as an individual. Family support is necessary because there are so many cultural forces pulling their child away. The family is a system! Family support treats the family unit as something worth honoring and nurturing.