National Family Resiliency Center – In The News | Via The Maryland Social Worker

On Oct. 23, 2015, the National Family Resiliency Center, Inc. (NFRC) co- sponsored a conference, Family Transitions: Issues, Solutions and Policies with the University of Baltimore School of Law, and Sayra and Neil Meyerhoff Center for Children, Families, and the Courts. The purpose of the conference was to address recent recommendations of the Maryland Commission for Child Custody, identify pressing issues facing children and parents who are in transition, and explore solutions working with an interdisciplinary approach.

The conference was well attended by approximately 300 lawyers, judges, mental health professionals, school counselors, school administrators, pediatricians, funders, law students, and the faith community.

Risa Garon, executive director of NFRC and Professor Barbara Babb, Director of the Center for Children, Families and the Courts have worked together for many years. Garon stated, “My social work education and experience in the field naturally led me to work in collaboration with professionals from many different disciplines.”

Both Garon and Babb attended Cornell University and studied under Dr. Urie Bronfenbrenner, renowned for his ecological approach which emphasizes that all systems impact the family and need to work in sync to promote healthy family functioning. Garon and Babb have presented together at state, regional, and national conferences on concepts that Babb has introduced to the State of Maryland: therapeutic jurisprudence – providing services to families that are helpful and purposely planned with the goal of assisting families through difficult times of transition. Both served on the recent Maryland Commission for Child Custody’s Statutes working committee, which promoted a model of making decisions that focus on the developmental needs of the child and shared parenting, when possible.

Garon strongly believes that social workers have the capacity to be leaders of change but that such change requires tremendous effort working at a policy and advocacy level as well as providing direct services, specifically designed to meet the needs of families. She and her staff developed NFRC’s Child and Family Focused Decision Making Model© that helps parents and decision makers, such as judges, magistrates, attorneys, and other mental health professionals define and address specific developmental and special needs of children of all ages, fostering constructive co-parenting to help both parents remain involved in their children’s lives. Rather than focusing solely on what parents want regarding time with their children, the model emphasizes addressing children’s needs.

As most states and jurisdictions move toward requiring parents to submit parent plans before they are divorced, NFRC is a leader through the development of its on-line FamilyConnex© program and coparent education classes which teach parents how to create and complete parent plans. NFRC is known for its advocacy for families, particularly children. Garon said, “Many families still feel the stigma of divorce and other family transitions. Often, divorce is an umbrella for the challenges that families face such as mental illness, learning challenges, substance abuse issues, and problems in parent and child relationships. Although constructive changes have been made over the years, parents still experience problems going through the legal/judicial process, financial stresses, and children needing a voice and support.”

Dr. Robert Emery, professor of psychology and director of the Center for Children, Families, and the Law at the University of Virginia, was the morning keynote speaker. Emery discussed his new book, Two Homes: One Childhood due out summer of 2016. “When parents decide to separate,” he urged “parents need to put their emotions aside and focus on what is best for the children, seeing things from their child’s perspective.”

Del. Kathleen Dumais, vice chairwoman of the Maryland House Judiciary Committee, gave the afternoon keynote address, “Moving Forward: Recommendations of the Commission on Child Custody Decision-Making.” Dumais gave a brief overview of the Child Custody Decision-Making Commission, created through House Bill 687, and presented the commission’s guiding principles and recommendations.

This presentation was followed by a series of three panels: “What Policies Exist to Support Families in Transition” (Panel 3); “The Voices of Children, Youth, and Parents” (Panel 4); and “Fostering Family Resiliency: Messages of Hope” (Panel 5).

The conference was just a beginning as an overview of the issues, solutions, and policies. What is most promising and hopeful is that the evaluations were highly positive. Both attorneys and mental health professionals reflected how much they learned from the many professional disciplines represented.

As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

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