BCFS gets first time parents off to a great start

By Haley Smith
BCFS News & Information

Although no one is ever fully prepared for the journey of parenthood, San Antonio based non-profit Baptist Child & Family Services (BCFS) works to equip parents through its newly redesigned Great Start program.

Great Start is a free family education program that utilizes home visitation to share parenting information supporting the development of parenting skills associated with low rates of child abuse and neglect. 

In honor of National Child Abuse Prevention Month in April, the agency celebrates the 2,149 parents who signed up to learn more about the Great Start program between 2006 and 2007.

“We really try to focus the program around self growth not just parenting since we know you cannot grow in a parenting role until time is taken to work on self,” said Patricia Heredia, BCFS Great Start case manager.
The Cardona family, who signed up with the program in March of 2007 and continues to take advantage of the services, recognizes that their family’s positive progress can be accredited to that focus on nurturing self, then nurturing others.

After losing their first daughter to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, the Cardonas were very discouraged and anxious regarding their next parenting experience.

“Patricia, our case manager, really helped me with my confidence by coming to our home and working with me one on one.  She encouraged me to get outside the house and helped me accomplish my goals, while helping my husband and I find time alone together,” Rosalie Cardona said.

“I think so many people are emotionally and physically beat down by parenthood, but are scared to reach out and ask for help,” Lawrence Cardona said.  “Hearing the stories of others and knowing we’re not alone makes all the difference.”

Great Start works with five San Antonio hospitals as well as with related fairs and events in the community to identify parents who want to learn more about the program.  In addition, hospital staff and other community agencies recommend the program to families they believe may benefit from the individual services provided by Great Start.

Referrals are then disseminated between BCFS, Catholic Charities and the Family Service Association.  BCFS specifically targets first time mothers who make up about 37% of those referrals.  Of the mothers enrolling in the program, the agency has a 100% success rate of families remaining safe, defined as having no substantiated incident of abuse or neglect.

The program is funded by Texas Department of Family & Protective Services and United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County as a preventative service, meaning clients with open CPS cases cannot participate.  Families with open CPS cases are referred to the Precious Minds, New Connections program, a parenting education program also offered through BCFS.

Great Start typically provides services to each family for an average of six months.  During that time, surveys are used to identify family strengths and protective factors present in the home that prevent abuse.  Surveys also assess parental attitudes, behaviors and knowledge.  Results are then used to develop specific goals identified by the family to address gaps in knowledge and provide support.   

The program utilizes the Nurturing Parenting Curriculum published by Family Development Resources, Inc. to coach families in the values of love of life, respect for all living things, structure & discipline, and last but not least, laughter, humor and play.

 “Case managers actively work to strengthen empathy in our participants,” shared Donna Fleming, BCFS Great Start program director.  “Through our services, we would like to help rekindle the joy in parenting.”

“I encourage case managers and clients within the program to remember that change is evolutionary,” Fleming said.  “The program is not a magic pill; however, it is tool that can help parents move from being less to more nurturing.”

Great Start holds events in the community throughout the year to connect families like the Cardonas.  Scheduled upcoming events include a Monthly Support Group Meeting on March 14th at 10am at 3014 Rivas Street and a Meet-N-Greet at Martin Luther King St. Park at 10am on March 29th.

As the agency continues to grow their clientele in the Great Start Program, they’re continually looking for ways to prepare Moms and Dads across San Antonio mentally, physically and spiritually for the journey of parenthood.

If interested in signing up for the Great Start program or for information on how to support BCFS’ mission to prevent child abuse, please contact Donna Fleming at 210.297.9868 or dfleming@bcfs.net.  To find out more about the Great Start program, please visit the BCFS website at www.bcfs.net/GreatStart.