An interview with Joan Holtz, Director of Family Support and Candice Bataille, Circle of Parents Program Manager at Illuminate Colorado.
Illuminate Colorado is the state lead for Circle of Parents, a national program that connects parents to peer-led support groups where they can get concrete resources and build relationships in a trusted space and with a trained facilitator. There are 44 active circles all along the front range and in some rural communities of Colorado. The Circle of Parents Groups Map lists 14 circles with a focus on parents in recovery. Groups vary in size and frequency, and most are open to walk-ins.
Joan Holtz, Director of Family Support, shared that while new Circle of Parents are usually hosted within an organization, they can also be started by individuals who want to start it in their community. “We may try and help them find a partner,” she said. “The hope is that they’re coming from that place of caring and are passionate about wanting to connect with other parents, and understand and work through parenting experiences together.”
“The focus of each group is truly born from the community,” said Candice Bataille, Circle of Parents program manager. “We're very open to allowing it to emerge from within, and then we'll just support the logistics for it to make it happen.”
Part of the logistics is ensuring that the group has a facilitator who has participated in Circle of Parents’ immersive three-day training to learn the principles and values of nurturing a non-judgemental, community-led, supportive space. The next Circle of Parents training is coming up September 28-30, for four hours each day.
Candice explained that parents are in a vulnerable space in their life when they join the groups, and many have the added stress of being involved in court cases. “It's not simple to be a part in choosing to make the effort to get back to a regular rhythm of life,” she said. “The facilitator is trained to really sense the group and see where they're at and meet them where they're at.”
Parent Circles also provide a meal and a childcare program that incorporates mindfulness activities and strategies for kids to take home, including a parent handout. “The parents or their caregiver meet on one side, and then there is another room where the children are engaged in their own circle,” said Bataille. “We know that their child has been on the receiving end and there might be some trauma accumulated there. We created the children’s curriculum in a way that responds to that trauma and builds on their social emotional capacity, as well as their capacity to find a way to self-regulate when they're not feeling well.”
Circles are supported by a variety of funding streams, sometimes through grants that Illuminate Colorado receives, sometimes through direct grant funding, or other times through a sponsoring organization who sees a community need.
“The beautiful thing about the Circle of Parents is that the model has been demonstrating that it increases resilience in parents and there is concrete support in times of need,” said Bataille. She explained that the facilitators keep in contact with group members beyond meetings through texts and calls, and have a list of resources at the ready. ”So even though they are not trained counselors, they are somebody that can give you a blanket in a moment of need. It's so powerful.”