University of Massachusetts Amherst

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From Home Visiting to the Classroom and Back

Risk and Resilience in the Lives of First-Time, Young Parents, an innovative, 3 credit course that was developed and taught at the UMass Springfield Center in the fall of 2017, brought together UMass undergraduates with Healthy Families home visitors from across the state to apply a research-based framework to bear on topics critical to working with young parents. Dr. Maureen-Perry Jenkins, Director of CRF and Professor of Psychology, and Gisele Litalien, Associate Director of CRF, collaborated with Meg Manning and Lee MacKinnon, family training specialists at the Children’s Trust, a statewide agency whose goal is to prevent child abuse.

Students made profound connections by grappling with the theory and research questions that inform their everyday work with families: What factors impact the decision to breastfeed? What is the best way to work with families dealing with both trauma and substance abuse? How can families build their resilience in the face of challenges? What is unique about adolescent parenting? How does father involvement impact outcomes for children? Numerous faculty from UMass Amherst and Baystate as well as community practitioners inspired the students by sharing their research and practice with students.  Students developed exciting projects that will be used to enhance their work with colleagues and families. UMass students incorporated the eye-opening field experiences of their peers into their new understanding of the challenges facing first time young families

The course was designed as the first step towards creating a pathway to college for professionals who gain intensive field-based knowledge but often lack the opportunity to gain college credit and earn degrees. Danita Gordon, a home visitor from Fall River, said “In the beginning, I was very nervous and a bit anxious about taking this course. It had been more than 30 years since I attended school. I felt intimidated and lacked confidence in my skills. This course was challenging to say the least but it was the most rewarding experience, one that I will carry with me over my lifetime. Since attending this course, I gained the confidence to reach for more educational opportunities. Currently, I am a student at Bristol Community College working toward my degree in Human Services. I owe it all to Children’s Trust. I never dreamed it possible, I did not believe I was smart enough to attend college. Only now, I understand that it is not about being smart enough. Attending college is about skills and a willingness to have a growth mindset. I am forever grateful for all that I learned during my time with you all at UMass Amherst. For me it was life changing.” The Children’s Trust and CRF plan to offer the course again along with similar courses to their home visitors across the state.