The Parent Club: a safe space and learning hub for Miami-Dade parents

Gabriel Suarez, a facilitator for the Parent Club, hosts story time for one of the club’s “Ready, Set, Go: Storytelling” workshops | Courtesy of The Parent Club

Isabel Rivera | Contributing Writer

“Instructions not included” is the motto most parents gravitate towards when asked what it’s like to raise a child. With 21st-century problems such as screen-time ratios and the online learning years of the pandemic, this rings even truer.

Though a proven parenting formula has yet to exist, there’s an FIU organization that wants to help Miami-Dade County families get as close to it as possible.

The Children’s Trust Parent Club is a community-wide initiative dedicated to supporting parents through the triumphs and trials of parenthood with workshops on how to raise happy, healthy, and successful children and teens.

Established in 2019, the club is a mixture of efforts from several local organizations including The Children’s Trust, the University of Miami’s Mailman Center for Child Development, Be Strong International, Inc. and, most notably, FIU’s Center for Children and Families. 

 “[The Parent Club] is really close to the mission of our center, because our focus is to promote children’s mental health and wellbeing,” shared Dr. Katie Hart, director of the initiative. “One of the ways we know we can prevent a lot of mental health challenges is if we support parents and caregivers specifically.”

The Parent Club partners with community hubs such as the HistoryMiami Museum to reach parents all across Miami-Dade County | Courtesy of The Parent Club

Workshops are held weekly online and in-person at schools, libraries, churches, museums, and other community hubs across the county and are offered in English, Spanish and Creole. They cover a range of relevant topics including ADHD, cyberbullying, and tantrums.

Incentives such as free childcare, food, and raffle giveaways draw in crowds of up to 75+ who show up for the perks and stay for the pointers.

Dr. Hart, who is an associate professor of psychology and licensed clinical psychologist herself, spearheads a team of five staff members made up of two coordinators and three facilitators. Together, their distinct cultural, educational and even familial backgrounds speak to the diversity of the community they serve.

“We have facilitators who are bilingual, some who are new parents, and some who are parents of teens,” Dr. Hart said about her team members. “That helps to provide some additional context and empathy for families. It’s helpful to hear from voices that share lived experiences.”

Aside from being a safe space parents flock to, the Parent Club aims to be an educational cornerstone for the families it serves. The organization prides itself in its Triple P curriculum, an Australian-based positive parenting program that is rooted in empirical evidence. 

Triple P supplies parents with simple and practical strategies that stem from the belief that when you build healthy parents, you build stronger communities. 

The program’s extensive research findings that point to decreased rates of child abuse, reduced problem behavior in children, and improved mental health amongst caregivers seem to agree.

“As parents, we only have the model of how we were raised and, although all parents are doing the best they can, it isn’t always a model that we would like to repeat,” said one of the club’s facilitators, Barby Jimenez, on some of the challenges the Parent Club’s curriculum addresses.

She recalled being surprised at a recent workshop when parents were asked if they had experienced “time-out” as a childhood punishment, and no one raised their hand. Instead, the participants, who ranged between the millennial and Generation X ages, admitted that they’d often been “hit” for misbehaving.

“I love when I see parents have an ‘Aha!’ moment and feel like they have permission to parent differently from their past experiences,” Jimenez mentioned. “It feeds my heart to know we are changing lives well into the future.”

Assistant researcher Melany Garcia conducts an arts and crafts activity at a “Ready, Set, Go: Storytelling” workshop | Courtesy of The Parent Club

Beyond the Parent Club’s goal to support and educate parents, the heart of its mission is connection. Dr. Hart and her team are keenly aware of the weight that accompanies being a parent – a child’s first and most formative role model – and the isolating effect that responsibility can have. 

Parents often feel left to their own devices when it comes to navigating their unique children and parental experiences. The Parent Club aims to remedy that very misconception.

“I think we all want to feel like we have a community and belong somewhere,” closed Dr. Hart. That’s really what the Parent Club is all about – bringing  parents together to learn, share, and connect with one another.”

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