Resource Center Offers Skill-Building and Support for Young Parents
The Young Family Resource Center (YFRC), part of the Felton Institute in San Francisco, provides a wide range of services to young parents up to age 24 and their children. Yohana Quiroz, the director of Felton’s Children, Youth & Family Division, knows firsthand how valuable the institute’s services are: as a young teen mother, she was an institute client herself.
In 1996 Quiroz began participating in the institute’s Teenage Pregnancy and Parenting Program, or TAPP as staff call it, and after she graduated from high school she got her first job at Felton as a receptionist. Two decades and about half a dozen positions later, Quiroz now supervises programs that she once took part in as a young mother.
The YFRC opened its doors in 2006 to expand services for young parents beyond the case management offered by TAPP by providing parenting education, vocational services, psychotherapy, and skill-building workshops. The resource center is a trailblazer – it is California’s first peer-directed, peer-focused program for young parents and their families. From its childbirth and breastfeeding classes to its sewing and cooking lessons, the YFRC offers youth many opportunities to learn and to gain confidence in their roles as parents.
As part of its peer-focused approach, the YFRC makes sure that young parents who visit the center interact with staff members who understand the young parents’ situations. On a typical visit, youth will encounter two to four peer educators and several adult staff who were young parents themselves. When peer educators and staff bring lived experiences to the job, young parents can better relate to them, Quiroz highlighted.
Quiroz said that young parents feel more at ease when “somebody on the other side of the table [who] is [their] case manager … shares, ‘You know, I actually have been there and know exactly what you’re going through, and just want to share with you there is hope. It may seem challenging right now to achieve your goals [but] it’s still doable.’” She added, “My case manager was a former teen mom [and] it helped me kind of see myself at the end of the tunnel; like, ‘Wow, that’s still possible.’”
Leveraging resources to create classes and workshops
Creating new programs for young parents requires substantial planning, and Quiroz recommends that staff look in two places for potential instructors and trainers – within their own organization for internal experts they can tap, and at other community-based organizations that may be willing to partner and share resources.
For example, several years ago the Felton Institute collaborated with First 5 San Francisco (First 5 SF), an organization that promotes health and well-being for children aged one through five. The cross-agency partnership brought First 5 SF’s early learning initiative to Felton by developing a train-the-trainer model for YFRC staff. A consultant from First 5 SF trained an initial group of staff on the program’s literacy-building curriculum and on how to teach it to coworkers. Now YFRC staff have expertise on strengthening literacy in early childhood and they no longer need outside trainers.
YFRC also employs a variety of skilled instructors who come from other Felton programs, or from other organizations through memorandums of understanding. In addition, volunteers donate their expertise to support young parents.
Engaging young fathers
Although the YFRC has been very successful in engaging young mothers, staff have had difficulty connecting with teen fathers. Young dads are difficult to identify, Quiroz noted, because there are no outward signs of their new role compared to the physical signs of pregnancy mothers display. This makes it harder to inform young fathers and engage them in services.
Quiroz added that young fathers often take on the provider responsibilities for their new families and have less time to visit places like the YFRC. Even if staff members engage a young dad, he may feel uncomfortable when he arrives at the center, a female-centered space. In response, YFRC staff have hired more male peer educators, and their visibility is increasing fathers’ participation in activities.
Quiroz and her colleagues also held focus groups to hear what young fathers wanted. Dads expressed an interest in a photography class, and when it was offered it was very popular. YFRC staff members have also begun to provide financial incentives for fathers’ program attendance, to compensate for their lost wages and increase their engagement.