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Whittier Street Health Center’s Brenda Daley has learned “healthy families begin with healthy homes”

Whittier Street Health Center’s Brenda Daley has learned “healthy families begin with healthy homes”

Author: Whittier Street Health CenterBrenda Daley is a child and family therapist at Whittier Street Health Center in Roxbury.  She advises families to reach out for help when they need it.

Brenda Daley’s experience as a LICSW and a child and family therapist at Whittier Street Health Center in Roxbury, has taught her that “healthy families begin with healthy homes.” Daley works with families in crisis who need extra support in accessing health and social services. Her experience with these families has given her valuable insight into steps all families can take to improve the health of their home and the family.

 “Communication is key to a stable, healthy and productive home,” Daley said. “This includes communication between parents and children and also among siblings.”

Critical to this communication is establishing family roles and checking in as a family to see how each member contributes to the overall functioning of the family.

Daley encourages families to think of themselves as an institution that requires a cohesive effort from many different members to achieve its goals. “While we don’t want families to think they have to operate like a business,” Daley said, “defining roles, responsibilities and boundaries, even for the youngest children, helps in the overall functioning and success of the family.”

Communication outside of the family structure is also needed, especially with schools to check in on how children are performing both academically and behaviorally.

She works closely with families to help them open up channels of communication. In order for this communication to take place, the family must be together. She advocates regular family dinners, starting at one or two nights a week. She also notes that quality time spent together does not mean you have to go out and it does not have to be expensive. She suggests families have movie nights together or go for a family walk.

Daley also advises families to seek help when they need it. According to Whittier’s Director of Pediatrics, Dr. Shikha Anand, “One of the biggest challenges families face is understanding different stages of development for their children and what should be expected from children at different ages.”

All too often Daley has seen inappropriate developmental expectations lead to increased stress on the parents, which puts pressure on the family structure. Daley encourages parents to ask their child’s pediatrician questions and to reach out to resources for help.

“Asking for help does not mean you are a bad or uninformed parent,” Daley said. “In fact it shows the pediatrician that you are engaged, interested and active in your child’s life.”

For families needing help, facing an immediate crisis or recent trauma, extra support is needed to achieve these steps and improve family functioning. That is where Whittier’s Intensive Family Team (IFT) program comes in.

The IFT program works with a family over the course of 12 weeks, one afternoon each week and delivers care through family therapy sessions. These sessions include a family meal, individual therapy, necessary medical, dental, and eye care appointments, and homework assistance. By the time the family goes home, treatment has occurred, dinner has been eaten and homework is complete.

“We designed this program with the understanding that families in crisis are often unable to attend multiple appointments on different days for multiple needs, so we address all of their needs in a single afternoon,” Dr. Jane Brodie, director of Behavioral Health Services at Whittier said. “While delivering services, we also model positive family functioning through the family meal, homework assistance and peer support.”

From Daley’s observations, these beneficial family characteristics stay with the families long after the 12 weeks are over. One example Daley provided was a mother suffering from bipolar disorder with a 1-year-old son.

“When the family first came to us, they were homeless and moving from shelter to shelter about every two weeks,” Daley said. “The mother had very low self-esteem, was not coming to appointments and was not confident in her parenting skills. She has now grown much closer to her son, has improved parenting skills and they have lived together in the same place for just about a year.”

The key to this family’s success, Daley claimed, was “knowing they needed help, and reaching out to us for support.”