Circle of Parents Is Not Just for the Parents

Circle of Parents Is Not Just for the Parents

Finding community can sometimes be difficult, especially in a rural setting. From getting answers to all your parenting questions to something as simple as finding a babysitter, it’s helpful to have a group of people you can go to for support. For one mother in Conifer, Colorado, finding that community has come through Circle of Parents.

Photo by Amy Johnson Photography

Jen Wilson was ecstatic when she first heard about Circle of Parents starting up in Conifer. Her kids had already been involved in early-childhood programming through Mountain Resource Center (MRC), so when it was announced that MRC would be hosting a Circle of Parents group for the community, she jumped at the chance to get connected to other parents in the area.

Through Circle of Parents, Wilson said she was able to find a group of like-minded parents. She also quickly realized how beneficial this group could be for her kids. “It became really important to me immediately and I saw the social emotional component of Circle and the work that those kids do in just playing with each other and being engaged. My son is on the autism spectrum…and we were really hoping to develop some of those social emotional skills, and Circle was actually a better place to do that than the school. It was worthwhile and everyone saw the value.”

Soon after joining Circle of Parents, MRC asked Wilson to be a parent lead and, when in-person meetings weren’t an option due to COVID-19, she began co-facilitating a virtual group. “Being able to go virtual has been critical,” said Wilson. “It helped to keep everyone in touch. It’s kept us feeling supported during a really weird year.” Throughout the pandemic, Wilson’s group was able to continue meeting to support each other, help each other out when needs arose, and figure out things like how to keep their kids socialized. More recently, the group has adopted a hybrid model, balancing Zoom calls with in-person meetings at local parks.

The newest expansion of Circle of Parents in Colorado, Children’s Circle, is something Wilson is thrilled about. Children’s Circle is a curriculum-based children’s program that builds the social-emotional skills of the children of caregivers and parents attending Circles, and Wilson sees this added component as the piece that’s been missing this past year for their group. The opportunity for parents and kids to have separate activities is really needed, she said. Wilson is excited about the opportunity to reach out to even more parents now and hopes that Children’s Circle will be an added draw for people in her community.

“It is a really great match for our community. It’s worth anybody looking into. Especially if you are in any way looking to make connections with other families, it’s a great place to start.”

– Jen Wilson

With the expansion of Circle of Parents to include Children’s Circle, the opportunity for Circle to make a holistic impact is growing, continuing to benefit both parents and children. When asked what she would say to anyone thinking about attending a Circle of Parents group, Wilson shared, “It is a really great match for our community. It’s worth anybody looking into. Especially if you are in any way looking to make connections with other families, it’s a great place to start.”

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Request for Information

Request for Information

Illuminate Colorado is looking for a skilled and collaborative partner that will support our organization in implementing the Conversation Guide for Professionals on Substance Use, Children & Families in four states (Region 1) with the possibility of expanding to a second region (Region 2) through the development of an adaptation, dissemination, implementation, and evaluation plan and provision of technical assistance.


Deadline Submission: Wednesday, 9/15 at 5:00pm MT


DOWNLOAD THE COMPLETE Request for Information: Adaptation, Dissemination, Implementation, and Evaluation of the Conversation Guide for Professionals on Substance Use, Children & Families: Scaling a Resource for Professionals Working with Families Impacted by Substance Use

Developed by Illuminate Colorado, the Conversation Guide for Professionals on Substance Use, Children & Families is a tool for professionals that provides direction on strengths-based conversations with families on substances and substance use, including content on safe storage, safe and engaged caregiving, and the Strengthening Families Protective Factors. The goals of this resource are to increase parent knowledge of and positive behaviors related to substance use and child safety, increase protective factors for children, and decrease child abuse and neglect.

To support implementation of this tool, Illuminate has developed the Smart Choices, Safe Kids Conversation Guide for Professionals on Substance Use, Children & Families Training, which educates professionals on the proper utilization of the tool and also explores stigma, bias, boundaries, screening tools, and resource referral options. More information about this resource and training can be found here.

Kiowa County Becomes the First County to Reach Child Safety Tipping Point

Kiowa County Becomes the First County to Reach Child Safety Tipping Point

Illuminate Colorado is excited to announce this week that Kiowa County is the first county in the state of Colorado to reach the tipping point to create a new standard of child safety in the community. In June of last year, llluminate launched the Tip Colorado Initiative aimed at training more than 200,000 Coloradans to protect children from sexual abuse.

Calculating the number of people who need to receive training in every county in Colorado and understanding what is necessary to create REAL social change in a community, Illuminate identified the tipping point for our state, as well as each county, where children grow up happy, healthy and safe in communities that prevent children from being sexually abused. 


People all over Colorado can visit an interactive map on the initiative’s website to find out the number of people trained in their county today and learn how many more community members need to get trained to reach the tipping point in their county.

Local authorized facilitators Amber Settles and Lisa Thomas were instrumental in training the population of Kiowa County to reach this milestone. “We all need this training as a starting point, so we know where to go for help and support to grow our skills and advocate for the kids in our daily lives,” Settles said. “We as adults need to advocate and speak for the voiceless.” 

As the state intermediary and authorized facilitator of the Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children® Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Program, Illuminate is strengthening families, organizations and communities by supporting more than 80 local authorized facilitators in delivering, to their communities, the only evidence-informed, adult-focused child sexual abuse prevention training in the United States proven to increase knowledge and change behavior. Together, we have trained 8,130 Coloradans to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to child sexual abuse. This is no small feat, but it is a far cry from reaching the necessary critical milestone in child protection that we need to effectively prevent child sexual abuse in Colorado. This pivotal achievement will come when 284,149 Coloradans have taken this FREE two-hour training offered online and in-person in some communities.

Tipping the Scales in Favor of Kids in Kiowa

The people of Kiowa County, in southeastern Colorado, have shown a strong commitment to the prevention of child sexual abuse by passing the tipping point where a large enough percentage of the population has been trained to prevent, recognize and responsibly react to child sexual abuse to create real social change. The county needed to train 69 adults in order to reach the tipping point; it has already trained 110 adults and isn’t stopping there. “As the first county in Colorado to reach the tipping point, Kiowa County is proof that our communities care about our children and that adults are willing to take this first step forward to strengthen their communities,” said Sadie Rose Pace, Illuminate Colorado training specialist. “The dedicated people of Kiowa County and the local authorized facilitators who supported them in their effort deserve to be recognized and celebrated.” 

Help Colorado Reach the Tipping Point

Thanks in large part to support from the Colorado Children’s Trust Fund from the Office of Early Childhood at the Colorado Department of Human Services, all Coloradans can take Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children® training for FREE. One of several trainings aimed at preventing child sexual abuse promoted by Illuminate, Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children® training provides a strong foundation that any adult can use to grow awareness and build skills to protect the children in their community. Illuminate looks forward to more and more counties joining Kiowa County in the continuing effort to prevent child sexual abuse. For more information about the training and to learn what your community tipping point is, visit

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Family Voice Makes a Difference Illuminating Systemic Change

Family Voice Makes a Difference Illuminating Systemic Change

Families are experts on their children and by extension the programs intended to support them in strengthening their families and addressing challenges. It is for this reason that Illuminate Colorado looks to parents and caregivers with lived experiences as the driving force within coalitions and networks focused on systemic change. We connected with three Coloradans giving voice to their experiences through two collective spaces “walking the walk” so to speak when it comes to the family voice movement to get their reflections on the impact Illuminate is having in the field.  

Increasingly, there is an effort to involve parents and caregivers from all walks of life in the decision-making process of systemic change, as well as program improvement. “Nothing for us without us! It is important that we listen and honor lived experience. We need to uplift and celebrate lived experience by saving them a seat at the table,” said Heather Hicks, a mother of two and a family voice representative for the Colorado Partnership for Thriving Families. “The Partnership”, as it’s more commonly known, is a collaborative space aiming to create conditions where children and the adults in their lives can thrive. The Partnership is building collaboration at the state and local level to align funding, priorities, regulations, outcome measures and implementation – across sectors and jurisdictions to create a strong family well-being system that supports families. As the backbone support team for the Partnership, Illuminate is guiding vision and strategy, supporting aligned activities, establishing shared measurement practices, cultivating community engagement and mobilizing resources in support of this collective effort. 

“I have worked in various spaces similar to the Colorado Partnership for Thriving Families. I have been the parent that professionals have refused to listen to. I have been that parent that professionals look in the face and nod their heads then do nothing. I have been the parent that has continued to cry out and strive for equitable spaces for families so that they come and participate in the decisions that are being made for them. I have been the parent that has spent years fighting for change and has seen very little transpire from it. So to come from that and walk into a space where Illuminate has opened their arms and hearts to not only hear what we have to say, but to boldly act upon what we have to say – it is a beautiful thing,” said Hicks. 

Hicks and Fikile Ryder, another mother of two engaged as a Partnership family voice representative, have been involved in this collaborative space for more than a year now. They both co-founded the Partnership Family & Caregiver Space and serve on the leadership team for the Partnership. “Illuminate is an unsung leader in the equity charge for lived experience. What makes them special is that they lead with compassion and heart. As an organization, they have unconditionally supported our asks and needs,” shared Ryder.

When the two women spoke to the Partnership leadership team about fair compensation for families and lived experience working with the Partnership, they said it was an extremely awkward and difficult conversation to have. As women, they felt the social constraints against them that make it even more difficult to advocate and ask for compensation for their time and talent. Reaching out to Illuminate to talk about how they were feeling was a moment the women recognized as the moment “the tables turned a little bit and they felt like equals who were being valued and heard”, crediting Illuminate for acting quickly to strive towards a solution. “We were met with support, kindness, advocacy, ideas, kind words and overall love. This was a turning point for the Family and Caregiver Space,” said Ryder.  

From that moment on efforts were made to demonstrate a real commitment to equity within the Partnership by compensating family voice representatives for their time away from their personal and professional lives, increasing pay for family voice partners to $50 per hour. And while Illuminate is heartened to hear that the process of getting to this milestone in family voice compensation felt positive and swift, Illuminate is also quick to credit philanthropic support and a shared desire among all of the Partnership Leadership Team for this additional investment. It is unique among the collective spaces that Illuminate supports right now, however, honoring the lived experiences of families is not. The Colorado Substance Exposed Newborns Steering Committee was established in 2008 and is a subcommittee of the Colorado Substance Abuse Trend and Response Task Force. In 2019, the Family Advisory Board (FAB) to the steering committee was formed in order to elevate the voices of families who have experienced, directly or indirectly, the impacts of substance use during pregnancy.

Diane Smith is a mother of three who has a leadership role within this steering committee, as well as the Family Advisory Board. “It is important to involve families with lived experiences as voice partners in program improvements and systemic change because it is the best way for our systems to evolve. When people are trying to identify what works, what doesn’t work, and how we change things for the next family, it is important for families to give input and share their experience,” said Smith.   

The FAB has been instrumental to the understanding of barriers in seeking support, health care, including treatment and other services, and informing of priority-setting within the steering committee to raise awareness and best serve the needs of families impacted by substance use. Stepping into an advocacy role like this one can be hard for parents and caregivers and Smith points to a strong relationship with Hattie Landry, Illuminate strategic initiatives manager for making her experience a positive one. 

“It is important for FAB members to feel like they are vetted into the situation and feel comfortable with the group of individuals before they share their story. Hattie makes us feel comfortable, she shows a lot of empathy as a person and colleague,” said Smith. When asked what decision-makers can do to support family voice partners and what non family-voice partners can do to create spaces where everyone feels valued and heard, Smith reminds organizers to be flexible and meet families where they are at by communicating by phone, email, text or even in person to ease the stress of sharing their story. 

Five Things We've Learned from Collaborating with Family Partners

Illuminate’s work within the Spectrum of Prevention fostering coalitions and networks to ensure continued progress on policy priorities, identify opportunities to protect existing policies that are serving families and enhance policy implementation has expanded over the last several years. The organization now supports eight different collaborative spaces to advance child maltreatment prevention in Colorado, with Landry facilitating discussions with family voice partners across many of these spaces. She gives five quick tips for organizations and collaborative spaces based on what we’ve learned from collaborating with family partners: 

  1. Ask family voice partners what their goals & visions are for systems-level projects.
  2. Involve family voice partners from the very start of projects.
  3. Don’t make assumptions about what families need. Ask questions, listen, learn, adapt, and grow.
  4. Provide equitable compensation to family voice partners for their time and expertise.
  5. Support family voice partners and non family-voice partners to create spaces where everyone is and feels valued and heard, creating equitable decision-making processes. 
Bills Supporting Child Sexual Abuse Prevention & Response Cross the Finish Line in Colorado

Bills Supporting Child Sexual Abuse Prevention & Response Cross the Finish Line in Colorado

All children deserve the opportunity to live, learn, grow, and play in safety. Policies that support prevention strategies related to child sexual abuse are critical in order to support the health and safety of future generations. In 2020 alone, a year when reports of child maltreatment were dramatically down as result of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent quarantine and stay-at-home orders, over 1,000 children were substantiated as victims of child sexual abuse through the child welfare system in Colorado. (1) However, Colorado has made some important strides in 2021. 

As the Colorado Legislative Session wraps up, bills focused on child sexual abuse prevention and response make their way across the finish line.

Senate Bill 21-073, Civil Action Statute of Limitations Sexual Assault, removes the statute of limitations and other restrictions on bringing a civil claim based on sexual misconduct, including derivative claims and claims brought against a person or entity that is not the perpetrator of the sexual misconduct. Eliminating the civil statute of limitations for sexual assault allows child and adult survivors time to heal so that they may access the civil legal system and monetary resources to thrive into adulthood after surviving sexual abuse.

→ SB21-73 was signed by Governor Polis on April 15th, 2021.

Senate Bill 21-088, the Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act, creates a new civil cause of action for any person sexually abused in Colorado while participating in a youth program as a child. The cause of action applies retroactively and victims whose assault occurred between January 1, 1960 and January 1, 2022 may bring a cause of action before January 1, 2025. The bill ensures that all victims of child sexual abuse, including victims who have delayed disclosing the abuse they experienced into adulthood, the opportunity to hold responsible culpable and complicit individuals and organizations accountable. 

→ SB21-88 passed both the Senate and House.

SB21-017, Sexual Contact By An Educator, updates hiring practices and ongoing duties of both charter schools and public schools to support information sharing with the Department of Education regarding whether a potential hiree or previous employee has been dismissed by or has resigned from a school as a result of an allegation of unlawful sexual behavior or an allegation of a sexual act involving a student who is 18 years of age or older. The bill additionally creates a class 1 misdemeanor, abuse of public trust by an educator, for limited and specific cases of educator sexual contact with students over the age of 18. 

→ SB21-17 passed both the Senate and House.

House Bill 21-1320, Sunset Sex Offender Management Board (SOMB), authorizes the SOMB to continue, unchanged, until September 1, 2023. A stakeholder process is anticipated in the coming year to create a bill for the next legislative session. As changes are considered to the SOMB, Illuminate Colorado encourages the inclusion of mandatory standards, comprehensive oversight, and victim input throughout the process. 

HB21-1320 passed both the House and Senate.

Adults are responsible for creating and sustaining safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments where children can grow up and reach their full health and life potential. It is possible to ensure that every child, in every community, never experiences sexual abuse if prevention strategies are thoughtfully incorporated into all aspects of society by governments, businesses, nonprofits, community organizations, and individuals.

Thank you to the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and many survivors, for leading the efforts on SB21-073 and SB21-088.


(1) Colorado Department of Human Services, Types of Allegations of Maltreatment Report Time Period: January 1, 2020 – December 31, 2020, Retrieved from on May 18, 2021

Review the 2021 Policy Agenda

Download the 2021 Illuminating Policy Agenda.

Review the Illuminate Colorado Bill Tracker to find the status of other bills this session related to strengthening families and tune in next week for a full recap of the 2021 Legislative session and the 2021 Illuminating Policy Agenda.

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