Healthy Families Aims to Prevent Child Abuse

Nov 8, 2023

Young Latinx mother holding little girl.

Many a parent has wished children came with an instruction manual. This lack of knowledge coupled with struggling through poverty and trauma are risk factors for child abuse.

Dozens of parents get a lifeline through the Healthy Families program. Washington County contracts with LifeWorks NW to administer this national program at locations in Hillsboro and Tigard. Families are referred through the county’s Help Me Grow early child development program.

“We form an alliance with families,” says LifeWorks NW’s Hillsboro Program Coordinator Nydia. “Our family support specialists meet with parents weekly on average to support healthy and happy relationships. The national goal is that all children receive nurturing care from their family that leads to a healthy, long and successful life.”

Healthy Families America (HFA) is the signature home visiting program of Prevent Child Abuse America, the nation’s oldest and largest organization dedicated to the prevention of child abuse and neglect. LifeWorks NW has offered this program at two sites in Washington County.

Developed over 25 years and based on extensive and ongoing research, the HFA approach is relationship-based, culturally respectful, family-centered, and grounded in the parallel process. Relationships that Family Support specialists build with parents and families serve as a model for cultivating supporting, positive relationships with their children.

According to HFA, its accredited program enhances family well-being by improving mental health, financial stability and reducing domestic violence. Children show improved development and school readiness.

In Washington County, participating families receive services in their first language when possible, as well as bilingual, bicultural support. Each of our eight family support specialists are assigned 13 to 18 families.

“Once a family becomes interested in receiving services, our staff will reach out to learn more about their current needs and explore their strengths,” says Nydia. “The first job of staff is to build a strong connection with the families being served.” 

After learning more about each family’s unique situation, staff will recommend services for families based on their needs, such as food, housing, health care and other safety-net programs. Participation is always voluntary.

While eligibility for Healthy Families is based on risk factors of an expecting parent, helping one child can ripple beneficially throughout the family. Nydia recounted one such case of a client from Central America who entered the program pregnant after having a number of children.

With the aim of helping the qualifying child, Support Specialist Cristina developed strategies that benefited the entire family. Cristina’s help connecting the mother to community resources spurred some wide-ranging results, from supporting her in removing an abusive partner from the home to intervening against repeated eviction threats to collaborating with DHS to help her keep custody of her children.

“It was crisis after crisis,” Nydia says. “There were so many times this family could have ended up on the streets,” but for Cristina’s persistence and resourcefulness.

“Sometimes the mother was so tired, she’d say, ‘I can’t do it.’ It took a lot of courage to persevere in the face of so many obstacles, most rooted in poverty and intense trauma.”

According to Nydia, there is still a lot the mom needs to do and she’s in survival mode constantly, which impacts the children, too. And she’ll have the fierce backing of her Family Support specialist.

“With HFA,” Nydia says, “families will always have ‘someone in their corner’ to support them as they navigate the joys and struggles of parenthood.”