By: Heather Ward, MSW, LSW, CPS
2020 has been a year unlike any other in recent history. The COVID-19 pandemic threw many of us off our usual schedules and changed the way families, agencies and businesses conduct daily activities. This was most definitely the case here at Wellspring Center for Prevention! We are used to holding in-person activities and programs, but we needed to switch that up once shelter in place came about in March. Moving our programs to the virtual realm was necessary to continue to reach the people and communities we work with.
Our "Family Nights Out" program is just one of our most successful transitions to a virtual platform. When held in-person, this seven-week program starts each session with a family dinner for participants before moving to three breakout sessions where families learn communication skills and tools to help improve family relations while navigating the obstacles of raising children. Youth and parents meet in two different groups before coming together for a family session where they participate in activities together to practice the skills they learned in their respective groups. When thinking about offering this program virtually, we knew it would have to change and would not work the same way as we were accustomed to delivering it.
In planning for a virtual platform, there are many things to consider. One of the biggest challenges is assessing the technology capabilities of the families we work with. With possible limitations on the number of devices in each home, as well as expertise in using them, we needed to make sure the families received the lessons and the tools to make the program a success for all, even if that meant changing up the format. Instead of having three breakout sessions, the youth and parents stayed together for family activities the whole time. This worked out wonderfully for our group because everyone had fun while learning new tools together to strengthen their family bond.
Some of the activities we added to the virtual sessions included "scavenger hunts" in which the youth and parents looked for objects that were related to session topics. For example, during the stress session, each family member had to find something they do to relieve stress and bring it to the computer to show the group. We also discussed things like goals and decision-making, for all members of the family as well as the family as a whole. Parents were able to work with their youth on consequences for both acceptable behaviors and misbehaviors. Youth not only heard what their parents expect from them, but also had the opportunity to hear what would happen if they venture outside those expectations.
As for dinner, families received a customized pizza and drinks delivered to their homes the day after attending the program. The youth really enjoyed getting to pick what kind of pizza they wanted, and the parents appreciated being able to not only get something their child wanted, but something they wanted too. Half bacon half veggie pie was a favorite amongst the group!
Image credit: Laurie Herrick