Parent educators from across the U.S. gathered in Ferguson, Mo., Monday to share experiences and provide trauma-informed parenting support. The national forum, “Beyond Fergeson: A Journey Towards Trauma-Informed Home Visiting”, kicked off the three-day Parents as Teachers 2016 national conference held in St. Louis. Parents as Teachers designed the forum for program supervisors and parent educators who serve families in communities experiencing violent crime, gang and drug activity, and other forms of historic trauma.

Ivette Morales, program supervisor at El Nido Family Centers in Los Angeles, was one of more than 60 parent educators who took part in Monday’s forum. Morales said she has seen the effect that daily toxic stress has on families with young children.

“Children are not speaking at a certain age. They already know when a car drives by, they're already looking out. If a policeman comes by, there's already that untrust, they'll hide behind their moms,” said Morales. “Being able to provide them that support, that guidance, ‘yes you've been through something traumatic’ and we're trying to better your life and better your child's life, break the cycles and move forward.”

Kate McGruder is director of Early Beginnings, which serves four counties in west central Illinois. McGruder said there are similarities between urban and rural communities when it comes to toxic stress affecting families and young children.

“Even though I come from a rural area, our families struggle with similar issues that families in an urban area do: lack of resources, not consistent stable support systems, mental health issues,” said McGruder. “If I can help families see that this trauma has happened to you, but it doesn't define you, and that we can work together to help you deal with these issues and be more resilient later, to be able to handle things that come their way.”

Part of the discussion was building trust with parents.

“Many promises have been made to families and communities that didn't come through in a way that families need and so building trust with those families so that you can engage with them is a challenge because they don't want strangers into the home,” said Cheryle Dyle-Palmer, executive vice president and chief diversity officer for Parents as Teachers National Center in St. Louis. “ Every parent loves their child, that's where we start. They love their children and want the best for their children so when you start by building that trust, perhaps it'll be easier to engage them.”

Morales also addressed the trust issue.

“I think for us, if we're able to build that trust where more families are enrolling in our programs and more families are staying in our program, the retention, I think for me, that's success.”

For more information about Parents as Teachers,