Creating family, neighborhood networks to raise healthy, resilient children

[Burtt and Gladys Richardson with Marcia Stanton, co-founder of the Arizona ACE Consortium]

Ever since hearing Dr. Vincent Felitti talk about the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study in 2005, Gladys and Burtt Richardson's top priority has been the primary prevention of ACES and fostering of resilience. To put those goals into practice they have begun developing what they call Family Networks and Neighborhood Networks, starting with their own Sam Hughes neighborhood in Tucson, AZ.

 

To Burtt Richardson, a retired pediatrician who established a family pediatric center in Winthrop Maine, and Gladys, a pediatric health educator in the practice and a long-time community advocate, primary prevention begins on day one of life and is a continuous effort until the child’s 18th birthday. They believe that by connecting all new and expecting parents with other parents of infants as well as fellow residents in the neighborhood where they live, the dissemination of community resources and support groups can be formed with positive outcomes for everyone involved.

 

Essential to launching Family Networks is the launching of Neighborhood Networks. According to Gladys, everyone is already a part of a Neighborhood Network just by where they live. The key uniqueness Burtt and Gladys are introducing is bringing together and tapping the natural inclination of neighbors who care about children and their families to create a culture that nurtures all children and their families.

 

Over the last year, Gladys and Burtt have laid the foundation for their approach by reaching out to (all) parents of infants living in their Sam Hughes neighborhood, to share resources, news and information through an online network and parent led activities and events. Gladys foresees neighbors with older children and/or grandchildren providing knowledge, support, and resources.

 

Additional goals for the coming year include the development of best practices for the creation of networks, discussion and documentation of the potential impact these networks have on children in these neighborhoods, and the creation of a framework that is adaptable to any neighborhood across the nation.

 

Family and Neighborhood Networks have the potential to bring back the practice of "it takes a village to raise a child" compared to the compartmentalized individualistic silos and communities that we live in today. It’s important to know your neighbor’s first name, and to know that in an emergency, the people who live around you are there for you and looking out for your best interest.  She points out that the underlying benefits are far deeper, citing from personal example that it’s satisfying to have a neighbor call out a friendly “Hello,”  wave as your drive by, or inquire if something is amiss when your parking patterns suddenly change dramatically. 

 

These networks, and those like them, change the conversation from "What can I do for myself?" to "What can I do for the health of the community I live in?"  When we are able to raise children in these types of communities, where neighbors and fellow parents share practical knowledge and resources helpful to parents, and help enhance and strengthen families within their community, everyone benefits, she says. The primary prevention of ACEs happens in these supportive nurturing actions.

 

“From my point of view, primary prevention of ACEs is the driving force that has kept me going,” says Gladys Richardson, “because I see the prevention of ACEs as improving the lives of infants and children, of fathers and mothers, of neighborhoods, towns and cities, states and nations.”

 

Gladys would love further information from other members doing similar work or with similar interests (including evaluation) and ideas for frameworks or models. 

Story by Jasmine Pettis, MPH, CLE

Community Manager for ACEsConnection.com

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Yes, indeed, we should and can build family networks within our communities. The value of such networks is immeasurable. We can start small. When my son became a teenager I got in touch with the parents of his close friends and proposed that we start meeting as a group on a monthly basis, rotating homes, so we could communicate about our kids and what they were doing. We monitored their back packs, duffel bags for alcohol (and found it!), intervened, and actually it made the kids feel safer as they felt there was a protective web around them. One kid is actually alive and thriving today (with a family of his own) because my son alerted me to a suicide plan and I was able to call the Dad and he removed the gun from the house! Those young people have "friended" me on Facebook and give me updates on their lives. And they have remained friends in their adulthood, providing incredible support to each other as they navigate the challenges of life. Marilyn Benoit

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