We chose to learn about, evaluate and present the Utah Family Center. The goals of this paper are; to explain the logistics of the program, to tie together what we learned with Epstein’s Framework, to describe the climate and those who typically utilize the center, and include some final concluding thoughts about the center. As a group, we referred to the Utah Family Center website, we visited and walked thru the center, and we talked to great lengths with the personnel. We were able to take pamphlets and we took digital pictures of the center to utilize in our group presentation. We worked together to write this report about the Utah Family Center.
The Utah Family Center is located at 5192 Greenpine Drive (460 West) in Salt Lake City, Utah in the 84123 zip code. The telephone number is (801) 266-6166. The hours and days of operation are 9:00AM until 4:00PM Monday thru Friday. When special classes are offered, they are usually on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 6:30PM until 8:30PM. When one particular class is offered, it is on Saturdays. Their website is www.utahfamilycenter.org, and their e-mail address is emailprotected The Utah Family Center started small but increased in size once they received grant funding six years ago, and with the help of the PTA and the Utah Department of Education.
They share office space with the Utah PTA Headquarters. This particular location is the statewide administrative center, and there are different branches of the Utah Family Center that they refer to as satellite centers. There are nine satellite centers, and they are located in Logan, Price, Kaysville, Monument Valley, downtown Salt Lake City, Tooele, Provo, St. George, and Ogden, Utah. The satellite centers range in size depending on the area they are in, as well as the times they are open. The statewide administrative center is equipped with a large boardroom upstairs (seats 40) and a small one downstairs (seats about 12).
The staffing consists of the Director, Barbara Smith, her secretary, a financial advisor, a counselor, other assistants, workshop teachers, and numerous PAT (Parents as Teachers). The Director manages the center. The classes are directed by nationally certified trainers.
The Utah Family Center is funded through repeated PIRC (Parent Information ; Resource Centers) grants from the United States Department of Education Office of Innovation ; Improvement. A PIRC grant is based on helping low performing schools that struggle, with the “No Child Left Behind” concept a main focus. The center has to keep applying for the grant every four years. Currently, they are on year two of their existing grant.
The population served at the Utah Family Center includes parents who have been mandated by the State of Utah to use the center to take parenting classes. However, they do have other interested people who use the center as a means to learn as much as possible about parenting or a certain subject. The Utah Family Center is not restricted to anyone; everyone is free to utilize their services. We learned from our discussions from the staff that in reality, mostly low income mothers use the center (about 75%). However, about 25% of the participants are parents that would be of middle or upper class that use the center as a resourceful means to learn about parenting. The people who enroll in the classes are usually the ones required by court, about 75%. The staff noted that sometimes they are really busy and sometimes they are very slow.
The goal and informal mission statement of the Utah Family Center, as listed on their website, is:
“To strengthen partnerships among family, school, and community to address the whole child. Here you will find information and resources to enrich the family environment, promote academic success, raise healthy children and strengthen communities.”
The purpose of the center (as listed on their website), is to strengthen those partnerships in order to address the whole child. They also want to increase parents’ knowledge of and confidence in child-rearing activities such as teaching and nurturing their children from ages 0-18. They provide access to information, resources, research, and learning opportunities that will support families.
The center carries out its mission (as listed on their website) by the following resources and activities: parent and family lending libraries, community activities and events, family access to technology and information, seminars, workshops and forums, internet site resources, numerous links and tips, referrals, and translator services. They are also available by phone for services. Their locations are equipped with books and videos, computers, children’s toys and meeting space.
The center also focuses on the following items (as listed on their website): encourage and implement meaningful parent and family involvement, support academic success for all children, facilitate family literacy, honor diversity and aim for equity, promote safe and drug-free environments and unite and build networks that provide services and support to families.
There is a $25.00 donation to attend any special workshops or classes at the Utah Family Center. However, if someone cannot afford this, the fee will be waived. Attendants of seminars receive certifications. The types of classes offered include marriage preparation classes, types of intelligence classes, development of the brain, parenting classes and other. People can also check out any books and other materials (including videos and brochures) for free. The books and other materials are checked out for two weeks, but standard late fees are not applied.
The Utah Family Center is also a home for a childcare referral service. For $30.00 a year, members are able to access a lending library that is housed at the center. This service attracts mostly home-based daycares. The library includes numerous activities and resources.
The Utah Family Center correlates greatly with Epstein’s theory of overlapping spheres. Currently, the Utah Family Center incorporates all three spheres and has an especially large overlap in the school and community spheres and the community and family spheres. The area which the Utah Family Center is lacking the most in is the interaction of the family and school and spheres. However, the dynamics of the three spheres are always changing, because the center’s primary focus is always changing. The center’s focus is determined by the government when the center’s grant is renewed every four years.
The school and community spheres have a large overlap due to the direct influence the Parent Teacher Association has on the center. The Utah Family Center is a community organization which was created by the Utah State PTA. The center works directly under the PTA to enhance the home, school, and community partnerships. This relationship is the primary relationship that influences the overlap in the school and community spheres.
The community and family spheres have the greatest overlap of the three. This is due to the vast amount of information and resources available to families from the center. As mentioned previously, the center offers parenting workshops, brochures, and the PAT (Parents as Teachers) program. PAT is an intervention program primarily for low income mothers that are either pregnant or have young children. PAT teaches these mothers that they are their child’s primary and most important teacher. A certified trainer visits the homes of these women and teaches them how to be teachers and how to create learning tools for their child(ren) without spending a lot of money, if any at all. The program advertises to mothers and they consequently call in for help.
The last and most poorly utilized overlap is that of the family and school spheres. Although there is some overlap, it is primarily due to the indirect influence the PTA has on the families. The center is focused on giving families the resources needed to best prepare their children to enter into school, however, when the child actually becomes school aged, the resources drop off greatly for the families.
The program seems to focus mostly on a sequential philosophy, but partly a shared one as well. The environment allocated for the children is one that would attract preschool children. The PAT group that works in the center is specifically focused on early childhood training for children before they start school. On the other hand, there is still assistance for children and their parents all the way thru high school, but it seems more limited.
Although the family and school spheres are lacking in overlap, many examples of Epstein’s six types of involvement can still be found throughout the center. Of the six types, the most obvious and most utilized are: collaborating with the community, basic responsibilities of families and learning at home. The remaining three types of involvement, communication, volunteering and decision-making, are incorporated but not to such a great extent.
We feel the decision-making and volunteering seem to be influenced primarily by the PTA only, since the PTA and Utah Family Center work so closely together. Communication is very limited and we conclude this is because there just hasn’t been focus put on expanding it. We feel the Director of the Utah Family Center has put more emphasis on the three types that are more substantial.
Following are ways in which the Utah Family Center demonstrates the six types of involvement:
BASIC RESPONSIBILITIES OF FAMILIES/PARENTING: Several seminars and resources are offered to families. There is vast amount of educational information available for reference.
COMMUNICATION: Pamphlets about the center are available, and a website with information pertaining to the center. The Utah Family Center also has booths at conferences and occasionally at malls. They also rely on word-of-mouth and from referrals from organizations such as the PTA.
VOLUNTEERING: A partnership with PTA offers volunteering opportunities. Volunteers are used sometimes to help catalog the videos and books, and these volunteers are usually referred by the PTA, but sometimes from schools. Volunteers are also used to help prepare for the semiannual PTA conventions.
LEARNING AT HOME: The PAT program is very supportive of learning at home, and there is probably material in the lending library that helps parents to provide a stimulating home environment.
DECISION-MAKING: A partnership with the PTA offers opportunity for expanded decision-making.
COLLABORATING WITH THE COMMUNITY: The center’s network partners provide support, many resources, information, services, products and programs for the families. The partners are vast and include the Adult Education Program, the Bilingual Education program, the Centro De Le Familia program, the Domestic Violence council, the State Health Department, UEA, the Utah Office of Child Care, and the Utah Parent Center. A complete list is available on their website. Also, although some of the grant money is used to buy the materials they have, they also accept donations from the community.
CLIMATE AND POPULATION SERVED
The Utah Family Center is presented nicely on the website and in their literature, but when visited personally, we felt the center could increase in a few areas. Although we were greeted very warmly, the physical atmosphere seemed cluttered and a little confusing. We feel the center could benefit from better signage that offers direction, and perhaps some furniture that would allow for better organization.
It is very clear that the center expects for one to come in and obtain the resources they desire and then leave the center. There is not adequate seating or privacy for a parent that would like to stay and read or watch the materials they are interested in. Although there is a computer station set up for young children, it seems to be a means of keeping them occupied while the parent searches for materials instead of a learning tool that would be used for a lengthy amount of time.
The amount and variance of material that is available to people is impressive, however. We do not doubt that the center is capable of offering materials that are very educational and supportive, as well as having very useful resources to refer parents and others to.
The climate of the Utah Family Center can also be described as one that is managed and maintained by Caucasian women. There is definitely a lack of diversity, however, we did learn that some of the staff is bilingual. We feel men might be intimidated to come in and visit the center (outside of the workshops).
We would like to see the center offer workshops of varying topics that supplement the ones mandated by acquiring the grant, as to increase their appeal to a larger population. On the other hand, we do like that they offer child care while the workshops are going on, which increases the availability to attend to parents who cannot get babysitters.
Since we learned the population that utilizes the center is primarily low income mothers and those mandated by a court to go to the parenting workshops, we would like to see more middle and upper income people use the center than already are. We inquired about how the center mainly advertises, and learned they don’t really aggressively advertise in many ways but a few. The director goes to low performing schools and in conjunction with the PTA, parents from those schools learn about the center.
It is our opinion that the center could benefit from better advertising to allow for a larger range of types of people who use the center. We believe the center has a responsibility to all types of families to know of their existence, and they could accomplish this thru newspaper ads, billboard advertising, flyers, television commercials and working with all types of schools in the valley.
The areas of the Utah Family Center that we like the most are:
-The Utah Family Center owns an impressive amount of resources and information for families that is very helpful and important to parents’ concerns and areas of interest. Some of the areas (as listed on the website and the pamphlet) include parenting, adult literacy, discipline, mental health, family success, bullying, violence prevention, drugs, ethnic issues, health, and safety.
-We do applaud the welcoming attitude of the present staff, as they are very nice and informative.
-The website has several links and tips for parents to access. The list is very comprehensive and well-rounded.
-The PAT program is clearly well designed to help with learning at home, and the in-home visits allow overcoming the barrier or transportation common to low income families.
The areas of the Utah Family Center that we feel could use improvement are:
-The population that utilizes the center could be increased by the center focusing more on advertising and incorporating some diversity into their staff.
-We would like to see more people interested in the workshops, in lieu of the people who are court-ordered to do so. In addition, we would like the topics of the workshops to not be solely dependant on the grant requirements.
-We would like to see a sign on the front of the building for “Utah Family Center” to aid in the advertising avenues.
-We would like to see a group constructed to participate in the decision-making of the program that includes parents, school teachers, a principal, a government representative, senior citizens, older students and members from the community. The influence of the Director and the PTA should be shared throughout this new entity.
-Since the centers are not located in any schools (besides Monument Valley), we’d like to see better efforts from the centers for instigating communication between the families and schools.
-The Utah Family Center could get involved in sponsoring activities in the community such as a sporting event or cultural celebration.
We truly believe that an institution like a family center can and is very useful to families, although they can range in nature. The mission statement of the Utah Family Center is on target and includes goals that will definitely be beneficial to all families alike. When the materials of such centers are referred to by families, then families learn very important skills and information and get the support they need to help their children to succeed in their academics and social interaction. Collectively, when children do better in their scholastic achievements, then a community feels a sense of accomplishment and success.
There are also achievements that can be owned when offering a family center besides solely good grades. These include a support system for parents that would allow for better and healthier interaction with their children. In addition, a family center can allow opportunities for volunteering from people in the community, which can lead to a common interest and collaboration of means for the goals of the center.
A center can help families make their homes more supportive for learning, which can result in less obstacles for a student in their studying habits or having access to informed, resourceful, and supportive parents. Lastly, when a center incorporates the decision-making type in Epstein’s model, then several people can come together with their own ideas and experiences to share in order to allow for more productive ideas for families and schools. All of this will undoubtedly aid our center of focus, the child, during their school years to be successful.