Good Parenting as a Strategy for Gang Prevention

In January 2011, Richard R. Ramos, a noted gang expert, speaker, and author, posted a blog entitled Good Parenting is the BEST Gang Prevention Strategy for Any Community, and good parenting is exactly what the California Parenting Institute (CPI) is all about.

Gang prevention has always been of interest to CPI because they serve a large Latino population in Sonoma County, and unfortunately children of immigrant families often feel isolated and turn to gang affiliations as a way to feel that they belong.  But there is research evidence that when there is a good relationship between parents and their children (families where parents show an interest in their children), the kids are much less likely to become involved in gangs.

CPI 1aCPI provides parent education services with the goal of increasing communication between parents and their children.  Parents don’t realize that if they are not talking with their kids, the kids tend to interpret that as a lack of interest in them.  Middle school is a critical time for any youngster.  There is a strong need to trust and be trusted, to have a sense of belonging.  This is particularly true with children of immigrant families.  Their parents work long hours and have little knowledge about or involvement in the local school system, and the children often feel that they do not belong anywhere – not here and not in Mexico.  That makes them very vulnerable.

With the receipt of a $15,000 Community Grant from Impact100 last June, CPI has been able to bring their services to the Sonoma Valley, offering two 10-week sessions to Spanish-speaking parents of middle school children… and they found a perfect partner in La Luz.  Not only does La Luz provide a comfortable setting for the weekly CPI parent meetings, they also are well-established in the community and know the families who can benefit from CPI services.

Sixteen of 19 parents completed the first 10-week session and all felt that they learned how to communicate with their children better and recognized the importance of that communication.  Once they started talking to the child, the child started talking with them, and family ties strengthened.

CPI 3The classes use the Triple P approach – Positive Parenting Program – which is being used in more than 30 countries and has proven to be effective with parents of multiple cultures.  The approach uses a strongly prescribed format.  There are two instructors – one male and one female – to relay the message that parenting is important for both parents.  It is not just the “job” of the mother.  Classes might begin with a video about a family dealing with a behavioral problem – one which might seem familiar to many participating in the class – and they chat about how the video might pertain to them.  When they find that others are experiencing the same problems (and that it is not just a Latino problem – the videos are in Spanish, but portray families of multiple ethnicities), they are better able to understand why children behave the way they do and that it often means that the parent needs to change their own behavior.

As an example, one client complained about her son:  “My son never does his chores.  He comes home from school and throws his backpack on the chair, goes to his room and closes the door.”  The CPI educator suggested that they talk more about how he is doing in school.  The mother had no idea.  She had never asked him about school.  She learned that she needed to adjust her own schedule and to chat with him before asking him to do his chores.  So she started baking him cookies and when he got home from school, they would have a cookie and chat about their days.  It made a huge difference.  The son now feels that his mother is really interested in him and so he wants to please her and so he does his chores…. a relatively simple parent behavioral change resulting in a behavioral change in her son.

CPI 2aThe stories from CPI are numerous.  The parents have a workbook and homework.  Each week they set a goal – I am going to do these two things – and then they report back about the impact of their efforts.  The parents learn how to pay attention, offer affection, take advantage of incidental teaching moments, and how to set limits.  They are also sharing their successes with other parents so the impact of the CPI classes extends even further than the families of the 16 graduates.

Grace Harris, Parent Resources Director of CPI, expressed their gratitude to Impact100 for the funding that provided the opportunity to make a difference in the families they serve.  She described the women of Impact100 as caring deeply about the Sonoma Valley and doing something together to really make a difference.

Photos courtesy of California Parenting Institute