Brooklyn Park resident Tuwina Page-Johnson was having trouble connecting with her teenage sons. The mother of nine says her two youngest, ages 14 and 16, described her as talking “at” them instead of “to” them.
As a result, there were struggles within their relationships.
Recently, however, the lines of communication have opened and become healthier. Page-Johnson credits the needed improvement to the tools and skills she’s learned through the Families Supporting Families program she joined about three weeks ago. Offered through the Department of Social Services (DSS), the family group therapy session meets once a week on Thursdays at the Brooklyn Park Community Library.
“With this class they are teaching me how to talk to my children, and honest to God, it has helped so much,” said Page-Johnson, who attends the group with her 14-year-old son, Luca. “They are teaching me different techniques.”
This free program is part of the Brooklyn Park Community of Hope initiative which aims to bring resources to community families in an attempt to reduce incidences of child abuse and neglect. Brooklyn Park has some of the highest rates of Child Protective Services (CPS) involvement in Anne Arundel County. According to CPS data, in 2015, DSS investigated 117 referrals to alleged child abuse or neglect in the 21225 zip code that encompasses Brooklyn Park.
That same year, DSS began collaborating with neighborhood leaders, peer agencies and Casey Family Programs to determine how to prevent these types of crises and reduce the amount of children who enter foster care.
“We all came together and looked at what services we provided and what services we could provide in order to improve access and improve accessibility for resources in this area,” said Carnitra White, director of the Anne Arundel County Department of Social Services. “What we’re looking to do through the work that we’re doing in Brooklyn Park is to provide resources to families and the mobile population who are in need of services, so that we can increase their ability to successfully care for their children and provide for their children.”
Some of the resources offered to help them address their basic needs, which DSS believes can help them take care of their families, includes programs covering eviction prevention, utility and food assistance, clothing donations, help with obtaining life-sustaining prescriptions and more.
Community members can assess these resources through a few different programs, including the group Page-Johnson attends. Here, families can learn from and support each other in a safe space that promotes change and growth.
Brooklyn Park Community of Hope also offers the BP Café, a monthly parent support group that meets the last Wednesday of the month 11 a.m.–1 p.m. at Brooklyn Park Community Library, which helps to educate parents about resources and support in the area, as well as offering a chance to connect with other parents.
Meeting topics include financial literacy, understanding the Individualized Education Program (IEP), financial literacy, healthy eating and lifestyle choices, stress management and self-care. Since its inception in October 2017, 44 individuals have attended the eight BP Café group sessions.
DSS case worker Takiya Green also visits Brooklyn Park Middle School on Wednesdays 9 a.m.-noon and Brooklyn Park Community Library 12:30-4 p.m. to provide primary prevention services onsite to school families. Green assesses the family and determines their eligibility for available assistance programs.
Since the program started late last year, it has helped 67 families in crisis. It was through here Page-Johnson learned about the Families Supporting Families program.
Last week, the program received the first place Revere Bank award for Innovative Practice at the annual Maryland Association of Board Services meeting in Hanover. The group was selected from six other communities that submitted proposals for the award.
Since the initiative began, White says more parents are coming to the BP Café meetings. She sees participants connecting and supporting each other, which she believes can help them care for themselves and their children.
“I hope that these programs prevent families from having to have their children come into foster care and allow families to be able to access the resources they need to parent and support their families, as well as their children,” White said.
White says that since the program started, none of the families it serves have had to enter the foster care system.
Email your North County news from Brooklyn Park, Pumphrey and Linthicum to Heather Vecchioni at firstname.lastname@example.org.