Family Well-Being Advocates Gather for National Conference to Advance the Whole Family Approach

In this era of the dwindling middle class, addictions threatening families and communities, and social media influences, is there any way we can make a difference? Is there a way to increase family economic stability, improve interpersonal relationships and ensure child well-being? Practitioners of the Whole Family Approach believe there is. 

Last week, family well-being advocates from around the country gathered to discuss these questions and more at the Pascale Sykes Foundation’s “Working Together for Working Families” National Conference held at the Luciano Center at Rowan College of South Jersey.

“Working, low-income families are the backbone of our country, working the jobs that keep America running. But too many of America’s working families are one emergency or one paycheck away from crisis,” said Frances Sykes, president of the Pascale Sykes Foundation.

“The Foundation believes life’s goals are much easier to achieve when we work together with our families, communities, and service providers to reach them. This logic fuels the work of collaborative approaches that are improving family well-being throughout the country. Our conference brings together experts and practitioners in the field to cultivate a national conversation focused on making family-centered efforts like the Whole Family Approach the norm.”

Approximately 250 community, nonprofit, foundation, and business leaders attended the one-day conference. Throughout the course of the day speakers discussed the current status and future outlook of working, low-income families, particularly through the lens of the Whole Family Approach, its ability to help change the narrative for working families in America, and the impact it has had on families and communities.

The Whole Family Approach

The Whole Family Approach is a proven, family-led collaborative strategy that empowers adults and children as they set goals for themselves and achieve their full potential.

Many social service systems approach family well-being from an individualistic, fragmented, and crisis-oriented perspective. The Whole Family Approach aims to serve families and family members holistically. It puts equal priority on the needs of adults and children and enables seamless collaboration among multiple organizations to support a family’s plans. It is prevention rather than crisis-driven. Working alongside a family with the tools to reach their goals has far better long-term benefits than helping them once they have already reached poverty.

“Essential to this effort is access to integrated services that can address families’ needs,” said Jackie Edwards, vice president of strategic engagement at the Foundation. “Our grantees, many of which were speakers at the conference, are on the frontlines everyday working to provide a supportive environment that empowers families to stabilize themselves and make decisions that will not only keep them out of poverty but get them closer to their long-term goals.”

Many Voices Share Their Perspective

Keynote speakers, Drs. Sampson Davis, Rameck Hunt and George Jenkins, fondly known as The Three Doctors, and legendary broadcast journalist and 60 Minutes co-editor Lesley Stahl, joined panelists, funders and grantees to add their voice to the conversation. 

In the morning session, Dr. Davis stressed the importance of extended family in his upbringing, sharing a story about the role of mentors and teachers who helped to keep him on the right path. “Education is paramount. It’s especially important for young people to hear from mentors and teachers that they need to follow the path of education because that’s what saved all of our lives,” as he pointed to his colleagues on the stage. Watch the Livestream link here.

The Three Doctors and the Pascale Sykes Foundation team.

At lunch, Stahl, author of The New York Times best-seller, Becoming Grandma: The Joys and Science of the New Grandparenting, was interviewed by Liz Murray, the subject of the Homeless to Harvard made-for-TV movie and co-founder of The Arthur Project, a Foundation grantee which provides transformative mentoring services to middle school students in the Bronx.

During the interview, Stahl talked about extended families as well, sharing a personal story about the importance of multigenerational families and her own mother giving her permission to be a working mom and encouraging her to have a career.  View the interview here.

Lesley Stahl (right) and Liz Murray (left)

She also shared her concerns about the role social media is having on families: “The biggest change in our lives is technology, social media. I am seriously concerned and worried that these children are living online and it’s dangerous.” 

During breakout sessions, grantees presented on a variety of topics connected to their experience implementing the Whole Family Approach, including immigration, collaboration, trust-building, education, mentoring and transportation.

Paula Sarro, the associate executive director at Mercy Center, a community center in the South Bronx, who co-leads Familia Adelante/Family Forward, a Pascale Sykes Foundation Whole Family Approach collaboration, shared insight on what makes a good collaborative during her breakout session.

“A shared mission has really been one quality that is the most effective trait of any collaboration,” she said. “Our shared goal fits into the overall mission of each of our member organizations. It’s a key part of the way they do their work already and how they see themselves doing the work in the future so the collaboration was a natural fit. This is really critical to success and why I think we will be sustainable going forward.”

A variety of the Foundation’s grantees participated in the conference, including the Child Connection Center, Connecting Families to Communities, Familia Adelante/Family Forward, Families for Literacy, Families in Motion, Families to College, Family Strengthening Network, First Star, Stronger Families, Unidos para la Familia, People for People Foundation, Bigs & Littles NYC Mentoring, South Jersey Transportation Authority, Greater Bridgeton Area Transit, English Creek-Tilton Road Community Shuttle, Pureland East-West Community Shuttle, the 54/50 Community Shuttle, New Jersey Community Capital, and New Jersey’s Heartland.

In addition, Marjorie Sims from Ascend at the Aspen Institute; Commissioner Christine Norbut Beyer with the New Jersey Department of Children and Families; Joyce Thomas with US-DHHSACF, Region 2; and Elaine Zimmerman with US-DHHSACF, Region 1 were among conference speakers.

New Research on the Horizon

Research teams from Rutgers University and the University of Pennsylvania, commissioned by the Foundation to evaluate the Whole Family Approach, shared their initial findings on the positive impact it is having in rural and urban areas in New Jersey and South Bronx.   

Dr. Ross Whiting with Rutgers shared from the stage: “The biggest theme that we are seeing across collaboratives is flexibility. The Whole Family Approach is able to be implemented with immigrant families, foster youth and their families, and families with unrelated caregivers who are committed to improving children’s lives, so there are a variety of people who can benefit from this approach.” 

Looking Ahead

With new research and years of practice supporting service agencies as they work with a diverse array of families, the Pascale Sykes Foundation is looking ahead to the next chapter of this work. The Foundation seeks to build on a national movement that champions the Whole Family Approach and encourages more service agencies to adopt it in order to better support more children and families.

That also includes growing the funding streams that support collaborative work. One call to action from the conference was encouraging foundations and philanthropists to insist on collaboration in service provision through their funding models and support strategies.

“We’re proud of the work we’ve accomplished together, but we have more work to do and it will take different stakeholders — from service providers to government agencies to funders — to get the job done,” said Sykes.  “We hope that this conference will add to the national conversation our country should be having on the needs of working low income families today and lead to greater action. Working families are truly the foundation on which strong communities are built.”

Photo caption for header photo (pictured from left to right): Ashley Putnam, Liz Murray, Elaine Bradford, Jackie Edwards, Richelle Todd-Yamoah, Bernadette Blackstock, Rus Sykes, Christine Norbut Beyer, Fran Sykes, Lesley Stahl, Karen LoGrande, Mark LoGrande, Joyce Thomas, Elaine Zimmerman, Steve Fittante, Marjorie Sims, Fred Storey, Ronda Urkowitz, Susan Kyrillos, Nadine Manning, Joni VanNest, Jim Donio, Michael Jeary