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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Celebrating Fathers of Freedom

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Thanks to Combs and Nunez leadership, military fathers have a new place to connect with a brand-new Circle of Parents group in Colorado Springs open to any veteran father starting this month. The community known as Fathers of Freedom will meet online every Tuesday via Zoom beginning November 17th from 5:30 pm – 6:30 pm.

When Parenthood Comes Full Circle

When Parenthood Comes Full Circle

As I kissed her goodbye and blessed her “Dios Te Bendiga” (“God Bless You”), I walked away among the swarm of frantic and emotional parents just like me on moving day at the college dorms. Exiting the dorm building, I found a quiet place on campus, my mind suddenly filled with a cloud of memories, images, conversations, along with tears and laughter that could not be contained. Thoughts of 19 years of a path of putting my daughter’s developmental needs at a social, emotional, mental, physical and spiritual level in the forefront of my daily life, kept spinning. And it is in this moment that I’m convinced now, more than ever, that developing the social-emotional learning skills of our children early in their lives sets a stage for more positive outcomes down the road. 

In doing so, we help them feel confident about themselves, moving through the ups and downs of life with integrity and determination, avoiding staying down. Those are the skills that will help them navigate life, get along with others, establish positive relations, be aware of themselves (strengths and weaknesses), have empathy, make good decisions, regulate their emotions in a positive manner, resolve conflict and perform better academically – to get to moments like this.

As a parent and manager of the Circle of Parents ®program at Illuminate Colorado, I am proud that our organization is offering support to Colorado families and organizations alike to foster the social-emotional learning skills of our children. 

For the last several years as the Colorado Chapter of Circle of Parents, we’ve been focused on growing this national evidence-informed model to provide a friendly, supportive environment led by parents and other caregivers, where parents are the experts. And while we continued to grow more Circles, with 44 Circles in 12 counties connecting parents and caregivers, too often we’ve heard how parents are forced to deprioritize their own needs because they can’t find child care. I’m excited to announce that, later this fall, we will extend to parents and caregivers a helping hand in the process of continuously developing their children at a social-emotional level through Children’s Circle®, offered alongside Circle of Parents to provide a holistic experience for families.

Beginning Children’s Circle®

Illuminate Colorado created this new curriculum-based children’s program to build the social-emotional skills of the children of caregivers and parents attending Circles. Last month, we began training Circle of Parents facilitators and Children’s Circle leaders on the new curriculum consisting of 33 different lessons that can be used in any order highlighting skills such as: 

  • Self-Regulation/Calming,
  • Managing and recognizing emotions in self and others,
  • Conflict resolution,
  • Compassion and empathy and
  • Patience.

Designed by child development experts with a trauma-informed lens as well as an equity lens, the curriculum incorporates the Strengthening Families™ Protective Factors, as well as the competencies of social and emotional learning under CASEL (The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning). 

The goal of Children’s Circle is to provide developmentally appropriate, skill-building activities that will increase children’s confidence and self-worth while providing fun and enjoyment. This holistic approach to family support gives children a nurturing atmosphere, supportive skill building and structured play opportunities, while ensuring that parents have a safe, welcoming place to leave their children while they connect in the Circle of Parents – offered at no cost to the parents.

We will be offering another Children’s Circle training session on September 28-29 of this year. And as for me …well, the moment has arrived for my role as a mom to take more of a back seat. Continuously loving my daughters, providing support in times of need, checking in on them, enjoying life with them when they invite me or accept my invites, watching them navigate the ups and downs of life with confidence, crying with them, laughing with them…. As parents we never go away…such a beautiful and honorable role to play in life. Grateful.

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Thanks to Combs and Nunez leadership, military fathers have a new place to connect with a brand-new Circle of Parents group in Colorado Springs open to any veteran father starting this month. The community known as Fathers of Freedom will meet online every Tuesday via Zoom beginning November 17th from 5:30 pm – 6:30 pm.

Additional Counties Needed to Expand Peer Support Groups for Families Impacted by Substance Use

Additional Counties Needed to Expand Peer Support Groups for Families Impacted by Substance Use

In 2019, Colorado was awarded a Regional Partnership Grant by the Children’s Bureau aimed at improving the well-being, permanency and safety outcomes of children and the recovery outcomes for parents whose children are in or at risk of out-of-home placement associated with a parent or caregiver’s substance use. Since that time Colorado partners have been collaborating through this opportunity to build protective factors within families by expanding Circle of Parents® in Colorado. The intended result of this Circle of Parents Expansion project (COPE) is to move this national evidence-informed model to an evidence-based model eligible for federal reimbursement through IV-E Clearinghouse for the Family First Prevention Services Act. 

COPE partners are looking for six additional counties to pilot the COPE Project in their communities. Interested counties would be required to engage with their Best Practice Court Teams to launch the project and to begin implementing the DANSR approach and to participate in the grant-mandated evaluation. This is a grant-funded expansion, so there is no cost to participate. 

Circle of Parents groups provide a friendly, supportive environment led by parents and other caregivers. Groups come together based on their location and shared experiences, like parenting while in recovery from a substance use disorder, to openly discuss the successes and challenges of raising children, free from judgment. Illuminate Colorado, a statewide nonprofit working to strengthen families, organizations and communities to prevent child maltreatment, has been focused on growing Circle of Parents® in Colorado for the last several years as the Colorado Chapter for this national evidence informed model. Illuminate Colorado offers training, ongoing support and promotion to the 43 Circle groups meeting mostly online right now and plans to grow to nearly 60 Circle groups throughout Colorado by the end of 2021, many of which will be involved in COPE. 

Local courts and county-level departments of human services, the Colorado State Court Administrator’s Office, the Office of the Respondent Parents’ Counsel, the CDHS Division of Child Welfare and Office of Behavioral Health and Illuminate Colorado are collaborating through COPE to encourage and support the incorporation of peer support groups into the innovative Dependency and Neglect System Reform (DANSR) approach that is already successfully utilized across various Colorado counties to better manage cases with substance use concerns. While this project is currently focused on courts and communities who implement or are interested in applying the DANSR approach, however this may change and expand to other communities in the future. 

According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 1 out of every 8 children in the U.S. lives with at least one parent dependent on alcohol or in need of treatment for substance use disorder. According to 2014-2018 Trails data from the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS), 13,325 children in Colorado were removed from their homes due to parental drug and/or alcohol abuse. Parents with a social network of emotionally supportive friends, family and neighbors often find that it is easier to care for their children and themselves. Research has shown that parents who are isolated, with few social connections, are at higher risk for child maltreatment. When parents don’t feel like they are part of a community and, in turn, feel isolated and unsupported, it should be a concern for all those looking to prevent child maltreatment and address substance use. The well-documented solution to addressing both issues lies in building social connections.

The COPE project is designed to identify and provide services for parents impacted by substance use issues by addressing systemic processes in the court system using the DANSR approach to managing cases and through the enhancement of the recovery ecosystem for parents using  Circle of Parents. The evaluation of COPE has been designed to minimize the time and resource requirements of participating counties and their staff. 2M Research and the Kempe Center serves as the evaluation team for the project to provide a true randomized control trial design.  

To learn more about DANSR and the COPE Project, contact Megan Kearsley, CIP Coordinator and COPE Project Director, State Court Administrator’s Office at megan.kearsley@judicial.state.co.us. 

Illuminate Colorado is Hiring a Circle of Parents Program Manager (POSITION FILLED)

Illuminate Colorado is Hiring a Circle of Parents Program Manager (POSITION FILLED)

We are excited to announce that we are hiring for the position of Circle of Parents Program Manager.

The Circle of Parents Program Manager is responsible for overseeing the promotion, development, implementation and expansion of the Circle of Parents program in Colorado. This position reports to the Director of Family Support and will work closely with all members of the Family Support Team.

Qualifications / Requirements: Bachelor’s Degree in a related field preferred. Knowledge / experience with protective factors, family strengthening, substance use, child maltreatment prevention, professional training, and group facilitation is highly desirable. Equivalent combinations of education and experience will be considered. Individuals with lived experience are encouraged to apply.

Compensation: This is a full-time position eligible for benefits. Starting salary is negotiable and commensurate with skills and experience in the range of $50,000 – $65,000.

Illuminate Colorado offers health and dental benefits as well as participation in a Simple IRA, EAP, and Life Insurance benefits. In addition, Illuminate Colorado has a generous paid time off policy and offers both flexible scheduling and remote work opportunities.

If this sounds like an exciting opportunity to you, click on the link below for more details about the position. There is no deadline to apply. Candidates are encouraged to apply as soon as possible. This position is a full-time position eligible for benefits.

View the complete job posting here.

To Apply: Please submit cover letter, resume and three references via email with “Circle of Parents Program Manager” in the subject line to info@illuminatecolorado.org.

No One, in Fact, Is Better Than Ezra

No One, in Fact, Is Better Than Ezra

If you don’t know what Imposter Syndrome is, Ezra, a Coloradan father, can tell you all about it. Working through a divorce, going back to school to pursue a career change and dealing with health issues all made for an extremely difficult year for him. Going through all of this in the midst of a world-wide pandemic didn’t help and Ezra was also starting the process of sharing custody of his 5-year-old daughter in the middle of it all. 

Though he constantly tried his best, Ezra said he often worried that he might not measure up to being a good father. Imposter Syndrome, where one doubts their skills or accomplishments and often feels like a fraud, was becoming all too real to him, that is until he found his Circle of Father’s group. 

Ezra received a simple text message from Bright By Text, a FREE subscription-based text messaging service that offers resources to people parenting. The text was promoting a group of dads and male caregivers that were getting together online weekly to support each other and talk about whatever they want. 

“I was a little uncertain before joining. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know if I would fit in,” Ezra said reflecting on his reservations about attending the group. But those concerns became irrelevant after getting on that first call, adding that “there were no requirements. There were no expectations. It was just a bunch of guys on a call being welcoming…. If I had to sum it up in one emotion, it was relief.  I’d found a group of people I could confide in, ask for advice, and relax around.  Each of them had been in a similar place before, and all had something to add to the conversation.” 

Through Circle of Fathers, Ezra has been able to open up to this group of guys, be real with them and get the support and encouragement that he was needing. The other guys in the group helped him see that what he was doing for his daughter was not only enough, but was often more than many parents were able to do for their children.  They helped Ezra to accept that he didn’t have to live up to the unrealistic expectations that he had set for himself. “I’d formed a picture of what a ‘father’ was from what I’d seen in movies and on television. I thought I had to be a ‘superdad’. It took me a while, but they helped me believe I actually did measure up,” said Ezra. It wasn’t about cooking the biggest breakfast every morning or having all the answers all the time. It was about being there for his daughter, supporting her needs and loving her the best that he could. “There are no judgements at Circle of Fathers. It is all about being there for each other,” Ezra said.  

The truth is that life can be difficult at times and there are curves in the road we don’t expect. For these times, we all need support and acceptance. And sometimes just having someone there to listen is the most helpful thing you can find. And that’s what Circle of Fathers has been for Ezra. It’s a place he can go, judgement-free, and share what he’s going through. The guys are always there for him, offering support and giving advice when needed. But most importantly, they help him remember that he isn’t a fraud at all. He is, in fact, a good dad.

As the Colorado state chapter lead for Circle of Parents, Illuminate Colorado offers training, ongoing support and promotion to the 43 Circle groups meeting mostly online right now. There are plans in place to grow to nearly 60 Circle groups throughout Colorado by the end of 2021. Learn more about Circle of Fathers and other Circle of Parents groups in Colorado by visiting CircleOfParentsCO.org.

Celebrating Fathers of Freedom

Celebrating Fathers of Freedom

Adam Combs and Adrian Nunez, two military veteran fathers, recognized a void in their community for fathers attempting to figure out how to jump back into parenthood while working to overcome other struggles that often accompany serving abroad. 

Having a network of people to turn to when parenting gets stressful is critical to the well-being of children and families, as well as the economic health of Colorado. According to Illuminate Colorado, surveys among parents in Colorado prior to the pandemic highlighted the critical need to increase social connections among people parenting in Colorado. While 50% of Colorado parents think other parents ask for help with parenting, the reality is that only one in five parents in Colorado reported asking for support with parenting and one in five said they have no one to turn to for day to day emotional support with raising children.

Thanks to Combs and Nunez leadership, military fathers have a new place to connect with a brand-new Circle of Parents group in Colorado Springs open to any veteran father starting this month. The community known as Fathers of Freedom will meet online every Tuesday via Zoom beginning November 17th from 5:30 pm – 6:30 pm. They say they welcome drop-ins and, when it is appropriate, plan to meet in person and offer dinner and child care free of charge. Open to any veteran father who has the desire to build a strong and lasting bond with not only their children, but also with other veteran fathers, the community also set up a private Fathers of Freedom Facebook group. However, these two dads are no strangers to parent groups, having led a statewide online Circle of Fathers group since the pandemic impacted Colorado early this year.

“The biggest reason I started this group was because being a stay at home father who is a combat veteran and has battled a lot of things over the years, at times have begun to feel isolated and withdrawn from the rest of society,” said Nunez.  “I wanted to create a safe place for other Veteran fathers to meet up and fellowship and encourage and support each other through the thick and thin of life to really step out of our comfort zones to grow. A place we can learn to trust and confide in one another with any success or issue and most importantly teach each other from our own different or similar experiences to be the best and healthiest fathers and leaders we can be!”

In today’s society, many men, especially those serving in a highly serious profession, often find it difficult or even shameful to share emotions. The hope is this group will help break down those walls and create the space for fathers to seek the information and techniques they need to build on their parenting skills. 

People raising children of all ages can find statewide and local circles of parents connecting at CircleofParentsCO.org. Groups have come together based on their location as well as shared experiences, like military service, parenting while in recovery from a substance use disorder and parenting a child with special needs. Others simply want to connect with people in a similar parenting role, like the kinship, grandparenting and fatherhood Circle groups.  

Men are prejudged and punished for simply not knowing what they don’t know, because nobody has taken the time to instill that knowledge in them or model it for them,” Combs said.  “They are set-up to fail at fatherhood, of no fault of their own, because that is how our society has raised them to be.  Noted, these statements do not stand true for all fathers, but from within the populous of men I have spoken to on this subject matter, all have a strong desire to be in their children’s lives and be engaging fathers, they just do not know how to go about completely fulfilling that request at times.  If you add that uncertainty with any other childhood trauma or PTSD symptoms from a veteran’s time serving the war effort, you have a recipe for potential absence or child neglect/abuse.”  

Parents with a social network of emotionally supportive friends, family, and neighbors often find that it is easier to care for their children and themselves. All parents need people they can call on once in a while when they need a sympathetic listener, advice or support. To help parents find that support in their lives, Illuminate Colorado is focused on growing Circle of Parents® in Colorado.

Built around the foundations of mutual self-help, parent leadership, family support, and increasing all five Protective Factors in families, Circle of Parents® groups to strengthen families and prevent child maltreatment. Groups are parent-led and parent-driven and thus there is no curriculum – just a safe place for parents to share with each other and seek support and advice. Circle of Parents® groups provide a friendly, supportive environment led by parents and other caregivers, where parents are the experts.  It’s a place where anyone in a parenting role can openly discuss the successes and challenges of raising children.  It’s a place where they can find and share support.

We cannot help anyone until we take the time to help ourselves.  I started this group because I want to give our veteran fathers a support group to lean on and voice their concerns,” said Combs. “To speak about different tools to parenting and what some of the research is saying.  To openly communicate to each other what things have been working in their household and what things have not been working.  To give men a platform to be vulnerable with other men so they can discuss parenting without feeling judged for their potential ignorance on the subject matter.  This will be an open space where we can learn together through open discussion and book recommendations.  It will be a place to organize group activities with our children to build closer bonds and instill trust.  I want this organization to be a safe-haven where men are given the opportunity to be the best fathers they can be to their children and the best role models they can be for the next generation of fathers.  I think it is important to give ourselves some grace in parenting, because at the end of the day, we are all just doing the best we can.”

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