Circle of Parents: Breaking the Cycle to CATCH one child at a time

Picture it: A child that witnesses domestic violence tends to have built up anxiety which is typically, and wrongfully, diagnosed as Adult Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD). In school, they experience different triggers that set them off like the teacher making a joke and everyone laughing. They respond with violence because throughout their life, they’ve been taught that screaming, howling, cussing, and lashing out physically is a normal response, as did their parents learn when they were children. The teacher labels them as a “bad kid”, and mom gets called to school. She is embarrassed and internalizes that shame. Continual disruptions cause the child to get suspended or kicked out of school. The mother loses her job because she had to stay home with the child and then becomes cold towards the child. The cycle continues.

Now picture this: In only a few weeks since its implementation, Circle of Parents, a new program under Project CATCH (Community Action Targeting Children who are Homeless), has already started to make a difference for families struggling with homelessness. Adhering to Project CATCH’s mission to provide for homeless children, Circle of Parents focuses on helping and healing the mothers and fathers so that they will be better parents to their children. Circle of Parents is very aware of the role that trauma plays in an individual’s life. “It literally changes your brain chemistry the way that depression or anxiety does.” Susan Gregory, Circle of Parents Coordinator shares that “domestic violence is a reoccurring theme in shelters. You could say it’s a cause of homelessness.”

Therefore, the program takes a different approach. Instead of a traditional set up where a case manager facilitates discussion, the group is lead with peer to peer communication, where the parents lead and share experiences in the discussion. Not only do the parents also choose the topics for that week, but if a subject is significant to the group a workshop is created. Here a professional within that field is brought in to assist the issue parents are facing like potty training techniques and communication with their children.

The overall dynamic creates an environment of equality, openness and camaraderie amongst the group. “Circle of Parents, helps break the cycle. It helps diffuse stress in a safe arena so they can say what they need to say [to get it off their chest],” states Gregory. “Anytime a mom becomes more positive, she takes that back to her children.” Feelings of understanding and support start to break down walls and heal old wounds, reminding parents that their children are just that…children.

Circle of Parents is currently being held within three local shelters in Raleigh: The Salvation Army, Haven House, and Passage House.