Parents can be powerful advocates in supporting the wellbeing of children and families in their community. But sometimes collaboratives and organizations that focus on supporting children struggle with building and maintaining parent engagement and authentic power shifting and sharing with parents.
In this podcast conversation, we learn about the parent engagement work of Child Safety Forward in Hartford, CT – one of five demonstration sites for the federal demonstration initiative Child Safety Forward. In the discussion, we learn about how the Hartford project has worked with parents to become more comfortable owning and exercising their power – all in service of building a Child and Family Wellbeing System where child protection agencies, community partners, neighbors, and families share a responsibility to ensure children thrive.
Joining this discussion to share what they’ve learned are Chavon Campbell and Regina Dyton (Child Safety Forward) and parent advocates Georgina Fuentes and Kayla Waters.
A transcript of this discussion can be found further down this page.
Resources and Footnotes
More on Collective Impact
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The Intro music, entitled “Running,” was composed by Rafael Krux, and can be found here and is licensed under CC: By 4.0.
The outro music, entitled “Deliberate Thought,” was composed by Kevin Macleod. Licensed under CC: By.
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Welcome to the Collective Impact Forum podcast, here to share resources to support social change makers working on cross-sector collaboration.
The Collective Impact Forum is a nonprofit field-building initiative that is co-hosted in partnership by the nonprofit consulting firm FSG and the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions.
In this episode, we’re exploring the topic of parent engagement. Parents can be powerful advocates in supporting the wellbeing of children and families in their community. But sometimes collaboratives and organizations that focus on supporting children struggle with building and maintaining parent engagement and authentic power shifting and sharing with parents.
In this conversation, we learn about the parent engagement work of Child Safety Forward in Hartford, CT – which is one of five demonstration sites for the federal demonstration initiative Child Safety Forward. In the discussion, we learn about how the Hartford project has worked with parents to become more comfortable owning and exercising their power – all in service of building a Child and Family Wellbeing System where child protection agencies, community partners, neighbors, and families share a responsibility to ensure children thrive.
Joining this discussion to share what they’ve learned are Chavon Campbell and Regina Dyton of Child Safety Forward and parent advocates Georgina Fuentes and Kayla Waters. Providing an introduction for today’s chat is Collective Impact Forum executive director Jennifer Splansky Juster. Let’s listen in.
Jennifer Splansky Juster: Hello, everybody, and welcome to today’s podcast with the Collective Impact Forum. I’m Jennifer Splansky Juster, executive director of the forum and I am delighted to be with you today.
Today, we are in for a real treat. We are joined by four incredible leaders from an initiative in Hartford, Connecticut, known as Child Safety Forward. In October 2019 the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs, Office of Victims of Crime, launched Child Safety Forward, a three-year demonstration initiative to address serious or near-death injuries as a result of child abuse and neglect and to reduce the number of child fatalities. There are five sites across the country taking an approach to this work that will build a child and family wellbeing system where child protection agencies, community partners, families, and neighbors share a responsibility to ensure our children thrive.
The core areas of work that have emerged across Child Safety Forward sites include the elevation of families’ interrelationships as equal power and that will be the focus of our conversation today. For the sake of breadth I would say the other two areas of focus that the initiatives have elevated and that is really taking intentional strategies to systematically assess and address racism and sustained communication strategies.
As I said, we are delighted today to be joined by one of the five sites, Child Safety Forward Hartford. In today’s conversation we’re going to go into a deep dive on the parent engagement piece of their work. Today’s conversation will be moderated by the Child Safety Forward’s project coordinator, Chavon Campbell. I’m going to hand it to Chavon who will introduce today’s discussion participants.
Chavon Campbell: Hello, everybody. I’m going to introduce myself a little bit so everyone knows who am I and then I’ll go around and introduce the rest of everyone that’s going to be on today’s session.
I was actually raised by a single mom, 17, born in Jamaica, came over here when I was four years old, kind of been raised in Hartford, the Hartford area for about 20 plus years but went to school, high school in Hartford. Went to undergrad in Hartford and grad school in Hartford and then raised by a single mom again, so all of this kind of near and dear to my heart.
I would love to introduce the rest of our speakers today. I’ll start off with Regina and then we’ll go over to our parents.
Regina Dyton: Hi. I’m Regina Dyton and I am known as the principal investigator for this project. In other words, I guess, I’m supposed to guide it. I’ll just leave it at that.
Chavon Campbell: Awesome. Kayla?
Kayla Waters: All right. Hello. I am Kayla Waters, 34, born and raised in Hartford, been advocating for the past what? About 20-something years now. I not only do volunteer work for programs like this, I also advocate for the schools, for budgeting, for whatever you want to call it, activities, having more room or needing another facility, things like that. I go over and beyond to the legislative building and I can’t wait to get back in there.
I also work with children voluntarily on a lot of different ages, assisting pretty much with basic life skills. The little girl that went missing on Barbour Street just a few weeks ago, I’m working with them just seeing what I can do to help with any of the services that I can provide to them through all the community partners and activities of people that I’m with. What else do I do? Oh, wow, I went to Bulkeley. In a nutshell, oh yeah. All right. I’m mainly here because I did lose a child and this program actually guided me into this. I’m here, you all.
Chavon Campbell: Thanks, Kayla. Georgina?
Georgina Fuentes: Hi. Good morning, good afternoon. My name is Georgina Fuentes. I’m a 46-year-old single mom to a transgender boy. I was really—this is dear to me because I always said anything that’s going to be good for my child and other children’s future, I’m all for it. I am also in recovery, coming up on my 11th year, hopefully, god willing next month, and I joined this group—I was asked about it and once they said about having safety for children is what mainly got to me. I take this really serious and I take it to the heart because I would like to avoid all the children especially my own not to go through the same path that I had to go through because I don’t want my child or any other child to be another statistic. I’m trying to avoid the statistic.
I want us to be better and anything else that needs to be. I’m an advocate for a person that has a mental illness and a drug addiction. I’m also an advocate, certified advocate, for a person that does methadone and anything else you need to know I can answer any questions down the line. Thank you.
Chavon Campbell: Awesome. Regina and I we work on the project but I just want to say that our parents are honestly the super heroes of our project because they just bring so much wealth of experience and honestly, they allow it to be realistic. They allow it not to just be theory but actually be more practical.
With that being said, Regina, I’m going to ask you one of the questions. My first question for you is would you please tell us about the Child Safety Forward project in Hartford? What are the goals of the project itself?
Regina Dyton: Certainly. Focused on the area of parent engagement. In Hartford, the project has a few underlying tenets. One is that you plan with people, never for people. The other tenet is the people closest to the problem are the people closest to the solution. The method is really to combine community organizing with research, data collection, and service provision and education in order to increase the power that is the influence of parents in how other parents are educated, advocated for, and motivated to make changes in their community and those changes, we want to see those changes at both the micro and the macro level.
So yes, we want to see changes in how parents parent and respond and do things within the family. But we also want to see changes in the community level and at the institutional level. We decided that we were not only going to look at reasons that children are unsafe of neglect and abuse but we also want to look at the environmental community factors from everything from gun violence to accidents to car accidents due to lack of child car safety seats, things that may go on in the school or with the police, anywhere.
Chavon Campbell: How have we done that? How have you done that? How have we approach parent engagement work to meet those goals? What was our process?
Regina Dyton: We’ve engaged that through starting with asking parents through focus groups and just listening at meetings. First, we started with focus groups asking them what their issues are, what do they see as barriers to child safety. That’s where the project started. Based upon the things that they told us and the main thing they told us was that parents aren’t even exposed to the education and resources that are available for the most part until someone suspects that they’ve neglected or abused their child. Then we find child protective services stepping forth and saying you must go to this class to learn how to do so and so. A group of parents said why don’t we proactively have education available to us on this range of topics, things that could make our children safer or less safe before someone suspects that we’ve done something wrong? That’s been the main method.
Based upon that, parents came up with a list of about a dozen topics they wanted to learn about and Chavon and I worked with the parents to bring in educators, speakers, resources, printed material on those topics. Parents are learning them. As they’re learning they’re sharing actively with people in their community and we are working on putting together an educational training guide so that we will have trainers all of whom will be parents to train their peers in the community.
Chavon Campbell: Thank you. I love that. I heard you mention that you said we kind of started with focus groups and then I guess where else do the parents come from if they’re not coming from focus groups? How else have you informed them?
Regina Dyton: OK. Really, it’s spreading the word and based on relationships. We’ve had a good relationship with an organization called Hartford Parent University, for instance. Hartford Parent University is just that parents who have children in Hartford Public Schools, they’ve referred and sent a number of people to us. Some people came from Saint Francis Hospital where the program is housed, from their OB-GYN unit. The social workers referred some people, and then after that it was word of mouth.
Chavon Campbell: Awesome. Thank you. How does this connect with and inform other working groups and stakeholders involved in Child Safety Forward?
Regina Dyton: This is great. I think one of the goals I guess what I didn’t mention is to have parents inform state agencies and providers of what supports, actions, and so forth they need from them in order to help. I don’t mean this in a rude way but it relates to the data work group, the physicians, the pediatricians, the data people from child protection and so forth.
A big point of this is to have them truly behave as public servants. They’re often seen as authorities over parents but their purpose, indeed our purpose, is to be public servants and to be saying to them how may I help you rather than dictating this is what you should do. I know that’s a very different and sometimes difficult approach.
Chavon Campbell: Thank you and I love that because you’re mentioning shifting power which is like a core concept in the parent engagement work group.
And with that being said, let’s talk to our parents. So, parents, why are you a part of the Child Safety Forward parent engagement work group? I know you said why you joined it, why are you still a part of it?
Kayla Waters: I’ll go first. So I’m still a part of this because as I always join things, join organizations and other businesses and things like that, I want to see them prosper. I want to see the growth, and I want to see the solution to it all. When it comes down to these kids, our kids, you know what I’m saying? I would like for them to know that they have a voice, for them to know that they do have the power, and that they each can change just about every and anything as long as you keep the faith and you keep the positivity. Yeah, that’s why I’m still here. I enjoy the group. I don’t have a problem. I love the group.
Chavon Campbell: What about you, Georgina? What is your experience? What’s your experience been?
Georgina Fuentes: Well, I was asked to join the group by my son’s clinician, and the reason why I’m still here is because I’ve learned, I’m still learning quite a few things that I didn’t know before, and I also can share my experience, strength, and hope that I’ve been in life, and I’m very passionate. I’m very emotional when it comes down to helping our children, not just my child but his friend and the people in my community, my neighbor’s children.
It’s like they say back in the day when I was growing up, it takes a village to raise a child, and I stand really hard for that, you know? I would like to see and I would like to continue helping the next, you know, because the children, our children is and will be our future, and if we can help them now, it can help them down the line so they can understand, like Kayla said, that they got a voice.
I always told my child that his feelings are valid, and his voice is valid, that he can speak up what he feels when he feels it, and as long as it’s honest and respectful, that he can go ahead and speak it. Then he can share what I teach him, he shares with his friends, and that’s another reason why I joined the group and I’m still here because I notice that when I tell my child about something safety and something positive and good, and he has a friend that’s struggling, he comes and he asks me for advice on what to do or what to say to his friend.
It seems that I’m proud of my kid because when I was growing up, I didn’t have that. I didn’t have a positive and safety net, you know? So me being able to do this for my child and other children in this world, I would like to benefit from it, and I would like to—before I leave this world I want to be known for change, thought about change.
Chavon Campbell: Awesome. I love that. I will say Kayla and Georgina are probably two of our most passionate parents, and I love it. We’re going to talk about that a little bit because–
Regina Dyton: I want to go back if I could just a second.
Chavon Campbell: Oh, please.
Regina Dyton: Because as Georgina said, you know, her son’s clinician recommended, I reached out to her son’s clinician because we wanted to be sure that we have parents that represented all kinds of children, and this really does. We have parents living with disabilities, parents of children with disabilities. I want to make sure the transgender and LGB, you know, parents or parents of children with different gender identities and sexual orientations as well as various cultural backgrounds were represented, and we’ve done well on that. That’s really important.
In other parts of the project like on the data collection, we were very purposeful in making sure we talk to people from marginalized communities.
Chavon Campbell: And even when we were trying to form the group, that was the other thing. We would talk to the group members about like who else should we be having in our group, and what areas should we be targeting in Hartford too because that was another thing that we were discussing so that’s great.
And to kind of continue on this kind of frame of thought, what do you think has worked well with the parents so far? What do you think are some amazing things about the group that has gone well?|
Georgina Fuentes: I for one, meeting others, you know, that’s in a positive path as I am on instead of always being around the negativity and the bad things in my past. I at least now have met people and I’ve known one of the parents for a while but I’ve met other parents that are dealing with similar situations as I so I really, really don’t feel alone because being a single mom, having a biracial child that’s struggling with his own identity, and sometimes it’s scary and it’s lonely and that’s why I’m so passionate.
I’m a very emotional person, and when it comes down to children, since I didn’t have that positive handout, I want to make sure that I break that cycle.
Chavon Campbell: Thank you, Georgina.
Kayla Waters: Oh, snap, it’s my turn. Georgina giving all heartfelt stories and stuff, I’ve got to try my best to top this stuff. It’s OK.
For this group we have had our ups and downs but within our ups and downs we all agree on the same thing which is to push this movement forward, not just for ourselves but for other families and for our kids. I can literally say that meeting all these different people I’ve either seen them when on TV, and I’m like one day I’m going to meet them. Today is the day so coming into this program, it was a really enlightening conversation, and I just love every parent on the scene and that’s willing to do what we do.
Regina Dyton: I think some of the successes, I want to add some successes to that, is parents sharing information, really actively sharing information.
So for instance, one member met another group of parents at the library, began talking to them, and regularly meets with them to share what we’re meeting so even though we’re not to that point yet in our work plan, parents have taken it upon themselves to all do this, and also some of the things we’ve learned I think have such great value to the field.
So for instance, some of them around cultural stuff, one of our members who was born in Jamaica was telling us that the medical professionals where she’s from instruct them to lay a baby on its side or I think on the side, and so I mean that’s one thing we didn’t know. When I say we, I don’t mean just those of us in Saint Francis, that this is important learning that now you’re asking someone basically to not believe what the professionals in their country of origin told them, to throw that away and then believe people who are essentially strangers, Americans who are other, so that’s something to be dealt with.
I’ve always thought you can’t start trying to teach people what to do or instruct them in any or influence them until you already know what they believe, what they feel, and so I mean that’s just one example but we’ve learned a lot and I think that’s a huge success in terms of learning people’s perceptions, beliefs, and feelings about how they experience things.
The other I will mention is that they get conflicting advice within hospital staff that lactation guides, teachers or whatever, say it’s fine to sleep with your baby. Within the same hospital people have said one department says sleep with your baby, it’s good, and then another department says don’t.
Chavon Campbell: That’s great. I think there’s so many lessons learned. I’d love to talk a little bit more about it. One of the purposes of the parent engagement workgroup too was to create an educational guide, and to have different experts in the field—Regina mentioned this earlier—from multiple different topics like sexual abuse, like mental health. I think those are the two that stand out to me the most because I feel like whenever we brought that up, it was not only a time for education and questions but also a time for healing too. I think one of the things that we heard consistently was I didn’t know we had that. Like I didn’t know we had this resource.
Could you guys talk a little bit about that?
Georgina Fuentes: Me being a sexual assaulted victim, well, survivor—I don’t consider myself a victim anymore no matter how many flashbacks I get but I’m a survivor but some of the things I’ve learned throughout the years, and then knowing what’s been taught in this group was like wow, how other cultural beliefs is not so different that way some people make it seem.
You know how it’s uncomfortable but it’s OK to talk about it because that person is not going to be alone, and if we need advice or any suggestions, we get it from each other. I know that having professionals come in and teach us different tactics or different information helps us out with the healing process as well. But it’s not also—with me, it’s not only sexual and it’s not only—what was the other one?
Chavon Campbell: Mental health.
Georgina Fuentes: Mental health but it’s all the above which comes in domestic violence survivor. I’ve been in a little bit of– for me to be still so young because I’m still young even though I’m almost 50 but everything I’ve experienced, I experienced it so young that now being older I would like to break that cycle with other people and other children and other parents, you know? And not to be silent anymore because that’s the main thing a lot of us victims got threatened, don’t say nothing or I’m going to hurt you, I’m going to hurt your parents or whatever, and then we get that in our heads and we start being scared but I broke that cycle with my child. When my child spoke up, the first thing I did was call 911. So it’s a lot of things you learn in this group but then there’s a lot of things you can give out in this group as well.
Regina Dyton: You have to respond then to people saying I never heard about that, I didn’t know that resource existed.
Kayla Waters: So I didn’t know anything about this program or many other programs, and I’m so into community I don’t know how I missed certain things, but as far as advertisement and marketing and things like that, it has not been—it was been taking a step back. That’s why a lot of us don’t know where anything is or who to talk to because a lot of the times when you do talk to somebody, you know, that person pretty much puts you in a bad spot.
For me, I’ve experienced that and I know that other people have experienced wrong information, and it is not a good thing but we all working on it. So within this group, yeah, we may not have heard about it but we all are willing to take advice from one another and do the research on our own when we can and to see what actually applies to us, and if it doesn’t apply to us, how does it apply to someone else that we do know.
Regina Dyton: I want to repeat something that Antoine told us who couldn’t be with us today. He would often say, oh, my god, I never heard of that, never heard of that, but he let us know that he is a single father of four children. His oldest child has autism, and he once said I never heard of any of these things that could really help my family and perhaps if somebody suspected I was a bad father, they would have called DCF and then DCF would have told me where I had to go to get help, and then help comes and it’s seen as a punishment.
So he’s been great in talking to other men. He was talking about sharing information and resources at the barber shop, and sadly one of the responses he got from his peers was, and they let a brother like you in?
So that’s another thing. Learning that there’s this perception out there that you need three degrees and a suit or whatever to sit with these stakeholders or to even get this information or that this is somehow inside, you know, that belongs in a protected class of society or something.
So this piece of the parent plan for using the educational guide out in communities is huge because learning shouldn’t be seen as a punishment. Do this or you lose your kid. To get to people before there’s anything that rises to that level.
Chavon Campbell: I love that because one of the things that we keep talking about is kind of like there’s this disconnect from the services that you want to get versus what the community knows about, and I feel like one of the ways to bridge that gap was the educational guide because the purpose was to have the parents go out and teach their communities, one, because sometimes there could be a lack of trust within an institution or within an organization so to hear the information from people that have experienced it, it’s powerful.
I think like Georgina at one of our meetings, that’s why I say she’s passionate. In almost every meeting she’s like, listen, how can I get more support in this area, and then who can I tell in this area. I think that’s one of the things that I love about this group that has worked well so far is all of them have a passion of like, no, we’ve got to change this because we were affected by it, and I think that’s what shifting power is a lot about, the people that are affected are sharing.
So kind of shifting gears a little bit but not too much, what are some challenges that we face or it wasn’t exactly what we were hoping for when it comes to the parent engagement group?
Georgina Fuentes: I’m sorry. What do you mean by that?
Chavon Campbell: What are some challenges that we’ve faced or seen in the parent engagement group? So basically when you joined the group, is there any area that you felt like, oh, this isn’t what I expected or when you’re learning information you feel like, wow, this isn’t what I was hoping for. I was hoping for something more. I was hoping that this group would be something different, etc., something along those lines.
Georgina Fuentes: Everywhere and anywhere where you join a group with diversity people and all types of ethnic backgrounds and different religion or different beliefs, they’re going to have your negatives and your positives. You’re going to have your good and your bad days.
It’s like they say in the NA meetings, you take what you need and leave the rest, and that’s what I do. I take what I need, I leave the rest but I also try to give something back that was freely given to me. It’s like there’s times that I get upset with certain people because either they’re not being respectful but then again, we all different so we’ve got to take the good and outweigh the bad because it’s not always going to be peaches and cream all the time.
There’s going to always have different opinions, and that’s OK too because if we was all the same, we’d be bumping heads all day and nothing would really be done but if you put all different types of whatever is being taught or learned or shown, that’s the best thing to do is just take all the—everything that’s in that pot and just work hard for it.
Kayla Waters: As I said earlier, yes, we do have highs and lows. Me personally, I think the only thing that I would want to see more and it’s just not for this group but this goes for many other organizations and other businesses that are doing stuff like this is for your paperwork and stuff to be actually updated. You know what I’m saying?
A lot of things that was given to us are things that we already know. Some of us may not know it or have never seen it so with that I just want information to be updated, and as far as I want to say doctors, nurses, and all that, as far as having kids and things like that, yeah, they’ve got to do better and get back into gear with that with more pamphlets and then coming out showing parents pretty much what they need to do or try to help them to the best of their ability but just like I said, as far as paperwork, it’s always outdated. It’s always information left behind which leaves us to squirming around, looking, and doing things at last minute so I guess that’s my only issue. Other than that, I enjoy it.
Georgina Fuentes: We need more like not just statistics but actual more numbers so that we can really attack where we need to attack the most to work our way down the line in whatever else needs to be worked on but it’s true, we do need our paperwork to be a little bit more updated.
Regina Dyton: That’s a really relevant challenge, and parents brought that forth early too in terms of being able to access data that is collected on their communities about their communities. That’s another thing, well, I never heard of that, I never knew there was such an office as the office of the child advocate or a fatality review board, and why do people sit in meetings and talk about us and never talk to us? That challenge, what we’ve seen is we’ve started to look at data from these places, reflects some of the systems issues.
For instance, there are reasons and many times good reasons why certain data isn’t so easily and publicly available even though it’s paid for with public dollars so that’s one thing where people ask, well, let’s see this. I don’t know if I can show you that.
The other thing is in terms of things being updated, parents have learned it’s still a challenge, things aren’t updated just because somebody didn’t update them, there’s not the staff, the money, the resources to keep them updated. The challenges have been leading us to great possibilities as we plan for the future in our collaboration with research agencies that are focused on community-based research, participatory research so it’s helped to guide where we’re going to go.
The other challenge I saw was COVID and technology. COVID has made us do this stuff by Zoom. Now we didn’t have money in our budget to have parents get, rent, loan, tablets or whatever so then you’ve got people on their phones with various levels of service, connect-ability, you know, people being really cooperative, two or three in one room on one laptop that might be halfway working but that has definitely been a challenge for us.
The third challenge that I mention that’s always on my mind is how do you get people who have thought of themselves as, to tell the truth, superior. I’m not saying they’re bad people. We’ve all been socialized to be like the more degrees you have, the better. The more standard English you speak, the better. The greater your title within your agency, the better you are so how do people who’ve been socialized to think that they are the smartest and the best to know that they need to be students of parents with lived experience in order to have it really work, that they need to step into the parents’ world, into that classroom rather than say come into our dominant culture. That’s a challenge that I think we’ll have for a while but it’s a really exciting challenge.
Georgina Fuentes: Yes, because I always said that if I would like to help someone, it’s because I’ve been in their shoes and they will understand, relate to me a little bit better than a person that’s learning it from a book because not all books got all that information. You have to walk a mile in people’s shoes to really understand, respect, know what they’re going through, what they went through or what they’re not wanting to see again.
That will help, and that’s where we come in as parents, that we need—it’s like I always told my child, if I want him to respect and listen to me, I need to learn how to listen and respect him because he’s not going to stay a child forever, and I already molded him as a child and a toddler so now he’s at an age where I tell him he has to learn how to make his own decisions, and once my child is all grown up and he’s doing his own thing, I want to help like again, my neighbors, my community because there’s children that are younger than him that are going to need someone else to help.
Regina Dyton: I think one of our how-to to get people to listen to parents has been to have them present at our stakeholder meetings, to collect information from them, put it in writing and forward it to people that parents said these are their priorities, these are the issues, and share some of the learnings that parents have said, OK, people gave us these pamphlets right after we’ve had babies about safe and unsafe sleep but guess what? I already have three other kids at home. I don’t have time to read no pamphlet. I need somebody to talk to me. How do you send someone out in the community after when I’m home with the baby to talk to me as I’m doing the things that I’m doing? So sharing parent truths with providers and administrators is a good start. We still have a lot of work to do on that just because of our culture and the hierarchy but, yeah.
Chavon Campbell: There was two things that came to mind as all of you were speaking. I think one of the lessons learned or one of the challenges that we had at first was when we first looked at our job description for the parent engagement group and we realized that language was a barrier so I don’t remember if Georgina was here but for Kayla and Regina, what was that like? Can you talk a little bit about that?
Regina Dyton: I loved it because first of all I wrote the job descriptions for the parent engagement group and I wrote it with the Department of Justice in mind. I wrote it as a grant writer of a federal grant. Like many of us, I live in those two worlds and codeswitch all the time, and so it was very academic. I kind of looked at it, and you know I haven’t always been graduate degree Regina. You know I started as front porch Regina. So I looked at it as front porch Regina and I said this don’t make no sense.
So I put it before the parent group and they totally rewrote it, and guess what? It makes more sense. That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about, and I don’t know how it would be taken if, say, the chief pediatrician or somebody from the medical examiner’s office had the parents rewrite their stuff to say now this is better but I think that’s nirvana where we get to everybody on a stakeholder group but at least be open to the people who need to use it, creating it or editing it for us.
Chavon Campbell: I love that meeting. The parents were like what does this mean? Why are we using this word? Just say that. That’s one of my favorite things. One parent is like if you’re trying to say that, why don’t you just say it, and I was like that’s the disconnect. It feels like we’re not speaking the same language.
The other thing I wanted to talk about was, Regina, I know you mentioned at one point like seeing the parents grow within the stakeholders meeting and speaking up more and watching their power raise. I want to talk to Regina about that and I want to get to the parent stuff because I know that was also something that helps meaningful parent engagement.
Regina Dyton: That was so much fun. When parents first started, this was before Chavon was there, before all three of you were there. When we first started with parents making reports at the stakeholder meetings, they were kind of reading a paper, kind of looking down, the voice was quiet, kind of afraid, you know? It reminded me of when I took a whole group of young Puerto Rican girls to the state capitol for the first time, and out in the street they were all bad and talking a lot of crap. We got in the building and they saw a number of elected officials, they all ran in the bathroom. I went to get them and they go, no, there’s all those White people out there, you know, and they were scared.
That’s kind of how our parents started out but the more that they met amongst themselves, the more they learned, the more they talked and were confident. That group grew into a group that just about took over the last stakeholder meeting. OK? And then after the meeting said, which I thought was a great sign, wait a minute, who put that agenda together? We aren’t we putting together an agenda for the stakeholders meeting? Where’s our contribution to what needs to be on the agenda? That’s where it needed to go. That was a moment of victory for me. Those are questions they had never asked, and, OK, you all have been to a number of stakeholders meetings but this is the first time this came up and I’m glad so welcome. You will be contributing to the agenda for all future meetings.
Chavon Campbell: So I guess for the parents, what do you feel like helps you to embrace the power that you have? Does that make sense? What helps you feel like, oh, I can speak up more, I can say more, I should say more? What helps you feel like—what helps you to own your power?
Georgina Fuentes: Well, with me I’ve always been honest, straightforward. I always said I don’t got no hair on my tongue. I just learned how to be a little bit more humble and presenting it a little bit more better, respectful, and less ghetto because like I always say, I want to continue drawing people towards me. I don’t want them to run from me, and by me being honest with someone the same way I want them to be honest with me so it’s just all about presenting it, the way you present yourself, the way you present whatever you’re doing. It has to be honest. It has to be truth because then what are you doing? You’re going to be stuck where you was at in the beginning but as long as you share your truth and you be honest, it’s going to help you than hurt you. A lot of people think, like they always say leave it in the house. Whatever happens at home stays at home. No, screw that. You’ve got to share what’s going on at home because maybe at home you’re not getting that help but maybe another person, another parent can help you out, and that’s where the change come in. As long as you be honest and forward with it, you be good.
Chavon Campbell: You said something interesting of like essentially you had to change how you were presenting to be heard?
Georgina Fuentes: Yes.
Chavon Campbell: That honestly makes me feel sad because it’s like why can’t you be heard for who you are?
Georgina Fuentes: Because it was scaring people because I was sharing it with anger, and I was sharing it with hurt instead of sharing it passionately and from the heart. I was always like a dog attacking with rabies, and I didn’t want to be that. I want to be a puppy that want to be loved and want to be held and caressed so I didn’t want to continue being that hateful person. I didn’t want to continue being that mean person and that ugly side of me, you know? I wanted to break that—like I keep repeating—I want to break the cycle.
Chavon Campbell: Wow, we just went a whole session just on that, just on that.
Kayla Waters: Well, for me, I’m very outspoken. You may not think so because I sit here very quiet, very subtle, but I’m very outspoken. I say my truths and everybody has to accept me the same way I accept them for who they are. I don’t allow people to change who I am, my demeanor and things like that. I have to do it within myself and I’m not going to lie and say like we all have not been there, you know? Being all angry, being very strong about stuff but I used to be like Georgina and a bunch of other people. You know what I’m saying? I used to be very angry because I wasn’t being heard, and for me I had to take a step back because I know that I’m a queen. I know that I am a king in my own castle so nobody can’t take that from me. I will continue being me and everybody will just have to follow suit at some point of time in life.
I can’t be responsible for everybody else but I can try my best. I can try my best to assist those who do have difficult times in understanding anything from language barriers to just voicing yourself. I like to be heard so my power is always going to be there. I show up to everything so I’m always going. You will always see me whether up front or either in the back space, I will always be there.
So it’s just the humbleness of it all, and I continue to keep that. I don’t like it but you know what? I continue to keep that because if I don’t, then it leads down to a darker path that we ain’t ready for.
Chavon Campbell: I love that because especially from a—and you said so much. One of the things that stood out to me was like your self-worth. If you maintain your self-worth and keep in that, that’s going to help you to embrace your power.
I want to ask another question. So if we’re wildly successful, if this is exactly what we want to do, what is it going to look like in five years? What’s going to be different in five years because of the parent engagement?
Kayla Waters: Well, one, with all those parents, let’s say that we will be facilitators. We will be the number one on the scene. We will be doing focus groups, us holding our own things from focus groups to parent groups to any group. We will be able to do that, and we will be able to school others on it and hopefully that will make them join and connect as well as kids. They will be jumping on board to do the same thing. I don’t—let’s see. Again, surveys, going out into the community, doing those things, asking those type of questions, oh, I can’t wait for it to be so big. I can see it. Trust me, it’s just so much, just so much.
Chavon Campbell: So parents are initiating?
Kayla Waters: Yes, we are taking power.
Georgina Fuentes: Yes, and what I would like to—what I see myself in five years doing with this group is bringing back what I had growing up, trips for those unfortunate children that can’t afford to go on vacations to Disney World but we could take them to the lake or to the ocean or go roller skating. You know the summer trips that we used to go—
Kayla Waters: Do a retreats.
Georgina Fuentes: We used to go and retreats and stuff, camping, and I remember having to go to Hartford High and pick up lunches to go on a beach trip in the summertime. I want to bring back the times that, not so much, yeah, the technology is going to be our future but it’s more hands on. Let’s have fun. Let’s go and just play outside, you know? Do things that will be beneficial, and it will be a better place and a better world if we all were to just get everybody together, you know?
Chavon Campbell: So kind of like you initiating the things that you thought were worth—
Georgina Fuentes: Yes, the thing that worked for me growing up that I still take dear to my heart, even though I was kind of sad and even though all this miserable stuff was happening to me at home, I still had my community and my projects where I grew up that take me places where I can have fun and not forget that I was a child first before I became an adult, and that’s what I want. I don’t want children—I want children to enjoy their childhood and don’t grow up so fast.
Regina Dyton: I want—in five years I think that we won’t hear people, the response won’t be I never heard of that.
Kayla Waters: Exactly, yep.
Regina Dyton: Parents will be doing the awareness raising that we should be able to see, I daresay a measurable increase of knowing where to go get help. Also in five years I see parents at the city hall, the council meetings, more parents at the legislature advocating for resources, for systems change. I see public servants having more awareness of themselves as just that and listening to parents. I see more access and understanding of data and research, and I see parent- and community-initiated research where parents will be asking the questions.
Chavon Campbell: Awesome. This has been great so far. I think that I would like to close us off by just—how about we say something that you feel like the audience, the community, etc., needs to know about parent engagement as we close out.
Kayla Waters: All right. Me, Kayla, you have a voice, you have power, and I need you to trust the process.
Georgina Fuentes: Me, Georgina, I have where it is that a change is coming, and always be honest no matter if it hurts or not, and just accept the help that’s there, you know? And ask for the help. Don’t just stay quiet anymore because our voice is powerful, and if we want change and if we want better futures for our children, then we need to be their voice sometimes so like that they can be the voice for their children and just keep going.
Chavon Campbell: I will have Regina close out with hers. I think mine would be for, especially for the facilitators out there in organizations and institutions, be OK with things being messy or not organized. Allow people’s hearts to be able to come out because that is where you’ll find the gold. That is where you will see real change, and allow those people that have those experiences to lead.
Regina Dyton: I guess my final words is I love this. I love the parents. I love the work. There is so much wisdom and so much–well as we say–experience strength and hope is right there. There’s so much courage, and I’m honored to work with all my front porch brothers and sisters. No matter what we achieve or what people name us or confer upon us, we all just start out sitting on the front porch rocking, and I think that’s almost like where we need to meet to keep doing our business with our heads and our hearts. I guess that would be my closing thing, is just bring your whole self to an experience.
Jennifer Splansky Juster: This is Jen with the Collective Impact Forum team, and Kayla, Georgina, Regina, Chavon, I cannot thank you enough for joining us for such a rich conversation and sharing, as Regina said, such wisdom, experience, strength, courage, and hope. I mean that really sums it up so well so I’m honored to learn with you all and from you all, and thank you for the generosity of your time today and for the incredible work you’re doing for the children and the community in Hartford. Thank you so much.
Group: You’re welcome. Thank you.
(Outro) And this closes out this episode of the Collective Impact Forum podcast. If you are interested in learning more about what was discussed, you can find links to resources in the footnotes of this podcast.
We would like to acknowledge that this episode was produced and edited on the unceded, traditional lands of the Coast Salish people, including the Duwamish, Suquamish, Stillaguamish, and Muckleshoot tribes. We honor with gratitude the land itself and the pasts, present, and futures of these tribes.
The Intro music for this episode was composed by Rafael Krux and our outro music is composed by Kevin Macleod.
This is Tracy Timmons-Gray, Associate Director here at the Collective Impact Forum, and your podcast host. I want to say thank you so much for listening, and we look forward to connecting with you more in our next episode. Until next time, we hope you are safe and well.