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The Parent Leadership Training Institute (PLTI) was created by the Connecticut Commission on Children as a result of listening to the needs of families in Connecticut. The Commission launched an outreach effort to listen to the views of nontraditional stakeholders on children's issues for a comprehensive school readiness initiative. Through this outreach effort, it was discovered that parents felt their voices weren't being heard and that they lacked the advocacy skills necessary to make changes in the lives of their children. From this, the PLTI was born.

Norwich, Groton, and New London were some of the first towns to use this training after initial testing in Hartford. Norwich started their first PLTI program in 1995. During the first year of implementation, city agencies, Norwich Department of Social Services and Youth & Family Services, and United Community & Family Services offered their training skills as in-kind services to help initiate PLTI. Norwich went on to develop a parent leadership curriculum called Voices for Families, which has significantly expanded leadership training opportunities for parents.

In New London, the School Readiness Council and the Children First Initiative offered the program to parents in the area. Parent representation on committees that discuss and decide on children's issues in the city was extremely poor. The CFI/NL School Readiness Council felt that this program could offer their families the tools necessary to make an impact in the system. The first New London PLTI program was established in 1996.

 

 

The purpose of PLTI is to enable parents to become leading advocates for children. Parents may lack advocacy skills, but not the motivation or will to change their children's lives. The cornerstones of the program are respect, validation and a belief that when the tools of democracy are understood, the public will actively engage in civic life. Parents help bridge the gap between the private sector and the governing structures. Parents learn that their voices are influential and that they can produce positive change within their communities.

The goals of PLTI are to:
Help parents become the leaders they would like to be for children and families.
Expand the capacity of parents as change agents for children and families.
Develop communities of parents within regions of the state that will support one another in skills development and successful parent action for children.
Facilitate systems change for parental involvement with increased utilization of parents in policy and process decisions.
Increase parent-child interactions and improve child outcomes through parent involvement.

 

 

Child and Family Agency hired a PLTI coordinator to facilitate bringing PLTI to the region through subcontracts with United Community and Family Services in Norwich and with Groton Youth and Family Services in Groton. A Regional Design Team was created. Businesses, religious organizations, community agencies, parents, and others were represented on the Regional Design Team. Each city worked together to recruit participants.

PLTI was initially funded by the Children First Initiative. Additional funds have come from the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, local foundations, and community agencies. In addition, a significant commitment of staff resources has come from the City of Norwich, Youth and Family Services and the Department of Social Services. This commitment is ongoing. Costs included paying the facilitators who are trained through the Connecticut Commission on Children and providing dinner for the families and the facilitators, childcare, and transportation. Supply costs were minimal.

 

 

Potential PLTI participants from within the community fill out applications. A subcommittee of the design team conducts individual interviews with applicants. Classes must include a diverse population and applicants must demonstrate a high level of commitment to the program.

Once the class is chosen, participants are offered three steps of training. The first day is an all-day retreat that facilitates group cohesiveness. The retreat is followed by 20 weeks of classes. Classes meet once a week for 3 1/2 hours. The first 10 classes focus on parent leadership. The second 10 classes are on democracy skills-building with a corresponding practicum. There is a statewide graduation held at the State Capitol building where parents receive diplomas from the Secretary of State.

Alumni events are planned to help build a community of advocates. Workshops based on alumni interests are arranged. Alumni are also encouraged to mentor current participants. Social events at graduation time with both alumni and current graduates help forge a bond.

 

 

The 1999-2000 class of PLTI was funded through a patchwork including Children First Initiative, Family Resource Centers, School Readiness Quality Enhancement, the Bowdenwein Foundation, and donations. United Way has committed to full funding of PLTI in New London. The community recognizes that PLTI is an effective program and is making a difference in the lives of children and families in the region. The Children First Initiative/New London School Readiness Council will work with the community to ensure the continuation of PLTI in New London. The Connecticut Commission on Children will continue to offer technical assistance as needed. Both Norwich and Groton have decided not to continue with the state-approved PLTI program, but have developed their own local parent-leadership program.

 

 

One of the largest challenges with PLTI has been maintaining enrollments. PLTI requires an extensive time commitment and participants must attend all but three classes to graduate. To date, the Connecticut Commission on Children has not designed an exit interview process, so it is not known why parents drop out. The assumption is that it is due to the time commitment, but that is not definitively identified.

Another challenge has been to get business owners, city officials, religious organizations, and community agencies to attend design team meetings. It is crucial to have a local design team consisting of a wide variety of community members. Their role is to arrange for family supports such as dinner and childcare and raise local funds as well as informing the public, introducing parents to the program, selecting parents to attend the program and ensuring that the courses run smoothly. The design team needs to have a wide spectrum of participants to be effective, and this is often hard to establish and maintain.

Norwich also had problems with requirements set forth by the Commission on Children. As the State PLTI program underwent changes in structure during the second year of local implementation, restrictions filtered down from the Commission. The Commission mandated that local PLTI sites were not to select their own facilitators but were to use preselected facilitators through the Commission. Also all facilitators would receive payment according to a three-tier payment schedule based on the facilitator's formal education level. Although the State PLTI program curriculum is very good, the Norwich Design Team felt that the Commission was moving away from the original grassroots effort. Norwich wanted to focus on parent leadership in general and position itself to utilize a variety of curriculum choices to best match the needs of parents. Consequently, Norwich decided to end use of the State PLTI program and develop their own curriculum as one avenue to support parents. The Norwich PLTI Design Team met during the summer of 1999 and developed a basic curriculum, restructuring the training format so as not to infringe upon copyrights of the State PLTI program. The new training program received a new name, Voices for Families, and a new class began in March 2000.

 

 

Many participants have returned to school either to get their GED or to complete college degrees as a direct result of PLTI. Others have obtained jobs in the community that allow them an avenue to advocate for children and families in New London and Norwich. As result of their participation, parents have:
Organized an advocacy group to speak out against proposed Board of Education cutbacks.
Formed a local ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) parent support group.
Advocated to get a speed bump installed in a Norwich neighborhood.
Appointed members to the search committee for the new superintendent.
Established a "Clothing Bank" for women entering or returning to work.
Created a youth choir.
Been elected president of the school PTO.
Been elected as co-chair of the Head Start Council.
Created a Book Exchange for women returning to college to aid in book costs.
Started a mobile store at a local elementary school to teach money management and business skills.
Created the Sunshine Club to provide recreational activities for children and mothers at a local women's residential facility and taught parenting skills.
Developed a public access TV show called Hidden Treasures that provides the general public with information regarding programs that benefit children and families.

PLTI represents a primary prevention strategy for child abuse and neglect. Increased parental involvement in the schools and the community enhances family social supports. Parents who share with their communities help to develop more stable communities. They create new resources that support children and families. As a result Norwich and New London have become better places for children and families to live.

 

 

Norwich Youth & Family Services, (860) 823-3782, Fax (860) 892-6031;
United Community & Family Services, (860) 892-7042, Fax (860) 886-6124;
Norwich Department of Social Services, (860) 823-3778, Fax (860) 823-3793;
Child and Family Agency, (860) 442-2797, Fax (860) 701-3776

 

 

Jackie Plowden is a single mom, former welfare recipient and recovering alcoholic. She has spent many years fighting her addiction and working through the system to "get my life back together."

In 1992, Ms. Plowden realized that she had to make changes in her life. Her first step was to enroll in an alcohol abuse treatment program. She also started going to Madonna Place, a respite for women, where she learned to advocate for herself and her family. While at Madonna Place, she discovered there were a lot of women who were having problems with welfare reform. She decided to help these women, "basically giving them the courage to call and demand basic information that their social worker did not know or didn't tell them." Eventually, she became the official Madonna Place advocate. "I was very well versed on social services and policies because I was a client and was working through the system."

Through her involvement in Madonna Place, Ms. Plowden enrolled in Norwich's Children First PLTI program. "It really taught me how to advocate with a softer tone...how to call up the social worker and ask for information and get the information at a different level." After the PLTI course she developed her own public access television show "Hidden Treasures of Community Resources." The show features different community resources that talk about their services, criteria for choosing services, how they can help and how to contact them.

Following her graduation from PLTI, she became a part-time Parent Aide at New London Family Services. Eventually, the agency wrote a grant based on her personal and professional experience, including addiction, and created a program with her as its Parent Aide Addiction Specialist. These opportunities allowed her to get off welfare and, eventually through a program she discovered in PLTI, purchase a home.

Currently, Ms. Plowden is a Legislative Aide for Senator Prague. She continues to host her television show and is writing a book, Living High, Low and In-Between. She also plans to run for City Council in 2001. She feels she owes a lot to the PLTI program, noting that it is "the root of everything that is happening to me. PLTI taught me how to communicate for myself, my kids and ultimately other people and their families."

 

 

As a parent and employee at the Jennings School Family Resource Center in New London, Rumel Johnson wanted to learn more about the school system and what was available in the community for families and their children. " I had no idea that I had a voice as a parent," she says. Active in the PTO, she was soon appointed Parent Organizer. In this position she realized she needed more training to help her assist other parents. She enrolled in New London's Parent Leadership Training Institute (PLTI) program. "Taking a parent leadership training course has given me those tools to succeed in making sure the school system was providing my children with the best education possible."

Since graduating the PLTI course, Rumel Johnson has taken a more active role at Child and Family Agency. She is part of the alumni recruitment group working in the community and is a Parent Educator for the Helping Hands program, speaking with parents and getting information to them to help them become better parents. "Taking that one class has opened a lot of doors for me and changed my life. I wasn't even thinking about trying to work in the community in this capacity-in the Family Resource Center, doing home visits, stuff like that. What I really want to do is help other parents get this training so they will have the tools they need to be successful."

In addition to working in the community, Ms. Johnson has enrolled in Three Rivers Community College. She hopes to earn her degree in social work so she can continue to advocate for children and their parents.

 

  Sherry Filiatreault came to Norwich's Children First three years ago when she was looking for information to help her advocate for her daughter who has dyslexia. "I was struggling with the school to get my daughter the help she needed. I knew there was a problem and the school wasn't helping." Ms. Filiatreault enrolled in the Parent Leadership Training Institute (PLTI) program to help her communicate with the school system. "This course helped me polish up my act a lot." Since then she always gives the teachers as much information as she can. "I definitely have a rapport with the preschool teacher, the kindergarten teacher and, hopefully, the first grade teacher after this year."

"I have seen, in four years, a huge difference in the way they have treated my oldest daughter to my youngest. They screen the kids much more closely now, they are much more careful in placing kids. I see an overall change in the school system in the past four years. Whether it is some of my research or what is coming out of Hartford, it is where we are going with school readiness and early reading success."

After she took the PLTI class, Ms. Filiatreault started working with the Commission for Children as an Americorp VISTA worker. As a VISTA worker, she worked for PLTI on literacy programs and became a project facilitator in Hartford. However, working in Hartford didn't allow her to spend as much time with her own children, so she transferred her VISTA activities closer to home. In her new role, she works in another parent leadership program called People Empowering People (PEP), provided by the University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension System. This program is run at the York Prison with the inmates. A large part of this program is a community piece which involves, "making literacy coloring books, doing skits for youth offenders, and reading books on tapes and giving the tapes, books and tape recorders to homeless shelters."

Ms. Filiatreault remains a coordinator for the PLTI program. In fact, when Norwich decided to break away from the traditional PLTI program, she helped to develop the replacement program, Voices for Families. This program is "more suited to Norwich and the way Norwich runs. It is more community-based than PLTI."

In addition to spending her time being a parent, role model and advocating for children, Ms. Filiatreault has managed to find the time to return to school. She is finishing up her Bachelor Degree in Human Services at Springfield College. "[the program] really focused me, gave me direction and made me understand what I wanted out of my life. My kids put me in the community much more than I ever would have been."

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Overview
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