Working Effectively with Latino Parents

Genevieve Martínez García

Genevieve Martínez-García

So you have everything set: your curriculum is selected, the schools are on board, the sessions are planned, and you are ready to implement your sex ed classes with Latino youth. Still, you want to engage the parents and invite them to a parents’ night and orientation, conduct other activities with the families, and ask them to fill out the consent form. You contact all the parents–call them up, knock on their doors, send reminders–and yet they do not come. Sound familiar? Many educators have expressed their frustration when reaching out to Latino parents. Many are unable to recruit them, retain them, or reach them at all.

When implementing a program–any program–in the Latino community, what are the best practices to actively engage all members? I asked this question to 14 well-established direct care providers with extensive experience in the Latino community in Maryland. These providers included after-school program facilitators, managers of youth positive development programs, ESOL counselors, home-visitation nurses, clinicians, and sexuality educators. Almost all of them considered themselves Latinos, either foreign- or US-born.

They all acknowledged the challenges of working with the community, but they eagerly shared lessons learned after years of working in it. Bear in mind that the specific community they worked with is mostly foreign-born and recent migrants from Central America. Your community might look very different and, as a result, could face other challenges.

7 Ways to Work Effectively with Latino Parents

  1. Recognize their time challenges. Lack of time may be the culprit for lack of participation. Latino parents often work two or even three jobs around the clock; spend endless hours transferring from bus to train to bus to get to their site of employment, market, and home; and they also manage a house with children and probably other relatives. So, getting them out of the house and into a meeting, education session, or any other activity is very hard.
  2. Offer them something they can’t resist. Yes, free food is always attractive, but for parents struggling to navigate the system or pressed for time, food may not be the key to their hearts. If you are inviting them to a meeting, education session, etc., give them something they really care for; this may vary by community. Sample topics may include orientation on immigration or legal issues, how to fill out the deferred action paperwork so popular nowadays, an expert presentation on a health issue, or how to access social services for which they may be eligible. Build in time in your agenda for extra content.
  3. Make events easy to attend. Babysitting, food, transportation, accessible location, and convenient times are key to reduce the burden of getting to the event venue. However, convenience is subjective. Some parents might be available during the days when other might prefer evenings, weekends, or others weekdays. Consider multiple meetings at different times or venues if necessary and possible. Get to know what they ne
    ed, and factor it into your event planning.
  4. Think beyond the “in person” meeting. More and more Latino adults are actively using smart phones and mobile apps. Use them wisely to update them about meeting events and outcomes. You keep them in the loop even if they do not attend your events. But don’t forget to keep the already engaged parents informed and connected through social media and texting.
  5. Saying it in “Español” helps but is not the whole story. Being bilingual, bicultural, and sensitive to the community’s needs and history is important when establishing a relationship and communicating with the parents. However, even Latino outreach workers have had problems reaching out. Being Latino does not immediately translate to relating well with the community. There’s a great deal that comes from personality, establishing trust, and communicating well.
  6. Don’t be the new kid on the block. Working well with ANY community starts by building trusting relationships. In the Latino community, particularly the foreign-born, they need to feel respected and valued, that their participation will not lead to the possibility of deportation or ending up in a federal database somewhere, and that the program staff is honest in the work they do. Just like Rome, this type of trust is not built in a day. It takes years to settle in as a friendly and trustworthy member of the community. If your project is new and you are in fact a new face, consider partnering with an established organization or key individuals to handle community relations and help you navigate the cultural context.
  7. Knock, knock, knock! They might not come today, or tomorrow, but if you keep knocking on their doors and applying these bits of recommendations, they might just come one day and call their friends.

Remember every Latino community is different, with different acculturation processes, migration history, and socio-cultural context. Learn it, live it, and celebrate it every step of the way!

What are your lessons learned in working effectively with Latino parents?

Genevieve Martínez García is a Senior Researcher at Healthy Teen Network.

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Know their Rights: Advocating for Pregnant and Parenting Teens in Foster Care

Christine Runion

Christine Runion

The lines can be blurry for advocating for pregnant and parenting teens (PPT) in foster care. Do they have the same rights as their peers also in foster care? As adults? Understanding the legal rights of the youth you work with is essential in addressing the challenges of the system and your advocacy efforts.

A 2009 study by Chapin Hall of over 4,500 pregnant and parenting teens in foster care in Illinois found:

  • Although most pregnant teens in foster care received some prenatal care, more than one in five pregnancies involved either no prenatal care, or care that began during the third trimester;
  • Twenty-two percent of mothers were investigated for child maltreatment, and 11% had one or more of their children placed in foster care;
  • Only 44% of young women and 27% of young men had received a high school diploma or GED;
  • 86% of the youth were African American; and
  • Almost 25% of teen mothers in the study had two or more children.

There are several laws and regulations that protect PPT in foster care. It is important advocates are aware of these rights, because many times, youth are not:

  • Youth who become parents while they are minors have the same rights as an adult parent. Unless the state has a compelling reason to remove a child from their parents (i.e., abuse or neglect), the state may violate a constitutional right if they remove a child from the teen parent’s custody.
  • Fathers of any age who were not married to the mother at the child’s birth and do not live with the child may have to affirmatively establish legal rights to their child.
  • A child born to youth in foster care cannot be taken into custody and formally placed in foster care simply because his/her parent is in care.
  • When a youth is in foster care and his or her child is in the same foster home or institution, maintenance payments made to the foster parent or institution shall include amounts necessary for the care of the child.
  • Payments must cover the cost of food, clothing, shelter, daily supervision, school supplies, liability insurance with respect to the child, and reasonable travel for the child’s visitation with family or other caretakers.

To best support PPT in foster care, ensure that the youth has a lawyer who can protect his or her rights as a parent. Also, advocate for services for the youth, including physical and mental health services and parenting support.

What is the best way to help educate PPT in foster care about their rights? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Christine Runion is a Marketing and Communications Associate at Healthy Teen Network.

Vaccinating Against HPV, Preventing Cancer

Deb Chilcoat

Deb Chilcoat

Cancer. I don’t want my kids, your kids, or anyone’s kids to get cancer.

Cancer destroys the body, the mind, and the spirit. Cancer strains families. Cancer costs society billions of dollars. Cancer caused by the human papillomavirus is preventable.

Let me repeat that: Cancer caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) is preventable.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all children ages 11 and 12 be vaccinated against HPV, the virus that causes most cervical cancers. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updated its official vaccination schedule in 2012 to reflect the CDC’s recommendations. Three shots administered within a six-month period can dramatically reduce the number of HPV-related cancers. The CDC estimates 15,000 HPV-related cancer-cases in females and 7,000 in males that may be prevented by vaccination each year.

I’m conflicted about the response to these changes that now include the recommendation to vaccinate boys as well as girls—not about the recommendation or schedule of vaccination themselves, but that the response to the announcement to include boys was met with little to no controversy. On one hand, it indicates how far we’ve come since Gardasil was approved in 2006. Do you remember all the arguments against approving a HPV vaccine? Some people said it would send the message that getting the shot somehow encourages children to have sex. Others thought that getting the shot at age 11 was too young. And another group thought that the vaccine would cause mental illness. Some didn’t like that the government was imposing mandates on vaccination.

(Wasn’t it just a year ago when there was major fallout from Michelle Bachman’s comments about Rick Perry and Texas’s mandatory vaccination of middle school girls? Talk about a teachable moment! Public health professionals seized the opportunity to clarify misinformation about effectiveness, side effects, and costs; tout the benefits of herd vaccination—when a population or community is vaccinated against a specific disease to build greater immunity; explain that the body produces higher antibodies when given at a young age; and, get people thinking about cancer rather than how HPV is transmitted.)

On the other hand, it irks me that the arguments of 2006 didn’t rear their ugly head again, and I strongly suspect the sexual double standard is at work. In our society, men are encouraged and rewarded for sexual behavior, while women are denigrated and punished for theirs. Of course, there has been progress since the feminist revolution, but still, in 2012, the overwhelming assumption is that men must “sow their wild oats,” and women who do the same are called [insert despicable label here]. So it seems somewhat reasonable to approve of an 11-year-old boy getting a vaccine that protects him from a virus transmitted through behavior our society believes to be inevitable (i.e., sex). Unlike boys, though, our society still sees girls as precious objects never to be deflowered. Well, the fact is that the majority of both sexes will likely engage in at least one act of sexual intercourse by the time they are 16 years old.

So the argument stands that we should protect both sexes from cancer by vaccinating them before they become sexually active. Vaccinating your son and daughter against HPV is not an indication of your family’s sexual values and beliefs. It is merely your way of showing them that they are loved and you do not want them to get cancer.

Deb Chilcoat, M.Ed., is a Senior Manager of Training & Technical Assistance at Healthy Teen Network.

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