MCH Family Outreach in El Paso is Making a Difference Through Community Partnerships
Only a year ago, Lidia Saucedo and her son Alex were in a very different place. While today they are able to hug, laugh and joke with each other, at one time they were barely speaking and living in a heartbreaking situation. Thirteen-year-old Alex rarely left his room of blacked-out windows. He was headed down a dark path emotionally. He was in constant conflict with his mother, who had become overwhelmed with her son’s behavior while also dealing with her own depression.
Alex had a broken relationship with his father, and he and his mother were struggling to connect. He was suffering and had aggressive meltdowns when he became frustrated or upset. His mother had reached the point where she had given up.
When Alex entered middle school, he began refusing to go to school. They tried home school but pretty soon, Alex refused to participate. Saucedo received a subpoena from the local truancy court, but with no support, their issues soon returned. After a year of Alex not attending school, Saucedo received a second subpoena from the court. But this time a new judge had taken office and the courts provided families with resources to assist them with their issues. It was then that their lives began to turn around.
Saucedo began group therapy, but said it wasn’t the right fit for her. She was a private person and didn’t feel comfortable sharing her feelings to the group. She needed a different option and found MCH Family Outreach, who partnered with the court beginning in February 2015. She was assigned to case manager Gabriela Del Castillo in August 2015. Through MCH Family Outreach, case managers are able to work one-on-one with families in their homes on a weekly basis.
“Nobody had to know what we were talking about,” Saucedo said. “If I was upset, I could just voice it to Gaby and she would come talk to me.”
At first, Del Castillo said due to Saucedo’s depression, she forgot about appointments. But when they would meet, they began to take small steps.
“She’s very upfront,” Del Castillo said. “She will speak her mind. We had an immediate connection. We’re here to support and to guide. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. She was ready for it. She did the work.”
Using MCH’s Nurturing Parenting curriculum, Saucedo was able to see the connection between her own childhood and how it was affecting her behavior with Alex and her older two daughters who lived outside the home.
“When you are able to connect the dots, you see things from a different perspective,” Del Castillo said. “Nurturing Parenting is such a nonjudgmental curriculum. She would take the lessons and try them with her children. Now she responds differently in situations. When you know better, you do better.”
Del Castillo was able to work with Saucedo on the importance of touch, something that Saucedo was uncomfortable with at first. However, she overcame her anxiety and was able to put her hand on Alex’s back when she walked by him, or reach out for his arm when they spoke. Also, Del Castillo helped Saucedo learn how to react differently during arguments and give her children space to allow time to cool off instead of lashing out toward them. She said these small changes have made an enormous impact on her family.
Alex also found a new doctor who was able to diagnose his behavior issues and provide proper medication. He slowly began home schooling and little by little, rejoined the classroom at his middle school. Today he is able to attend classes in school full time, and Saucedo is proud of his progress.
Saucedo and Alex have built a bond, and she has learned how to better handle his problems and help him to work through his emotional challenges.
“This program helped me to defend my son,” Saucedo said. “He has a right to know that there’s people there to help. I have learned to advocate for him because not everyone will. He’s trying. He’s come a long way. I have learned through this that I have to be sensitive to his needs and defend my son.”
Such a dramatic change in a family’s life was possible through the partnership of MCH Family Outreach with the truancy court. This partnership began after the newly elected judge heard about the services through connections in the community. Zahire Gonzalez-Villa, director of MCH Family Outreach in El Paso, and her staff have made an effort to hand out business cards and volunteer to make presentations about their services throughout the community.
“You have to do the legwork,” Gonzalez-Villa said. “By building relationships in the community, that’s how you get to know families and then get to know other families.”
Methodist Children’s Home is able to reach families throughout Texas and New Mexico through its MCH Family Outreach locations. El Paso has been very successful in building partnerships in its community in order to increase its impact, according to Kelly Smith, program administrator for the Western region of MCH Family Outreach.
“Zahire is well connected in the El Paso community with services for families and children,” Smith said. “When she identifies a like-minded organization or association, she approaches with the intent of developing a relationship between her team and theirs in order to better serve the families who count on us for support.
“Partnerships in these communities are important to our mission,” Smith continued. “They increase awareness through the development of relationships and help us find the families who need our services. Also, these partnerships or collaborations facilitate our ability to help families get connected in the community so they can meet their needs self-sufficiently.”
Along with truancy court, MCH Family Outreach in El Paso has formed partnerships with several public schools, Communities In Schools, Rio Grande Safe Communities Coalition and has partnership agreements currently pending with the Boys and Girls Club as well as a local housing authority.
Communities in Schools is an organization whose mission is to bring resources to children in order to provide a “community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life.” The Rio Grande Safe Communities Coalition is operated by the El Paso County Hospital District through a grant from the Texas Department of State Health Services in order to encourage community mobilization focused on changing policies and social norms in order to reduce and prevent drug abuse and underage drinking.
During the 2015-16 school year, MCH staff in El Paso taught parenting classes in eight schools in three school districts. The classes run in 10-week sessions and are open to any parent at the school. The school liaisons and counselors promote the classes through signs, emails, direct phone calls and other methods.
Gonzalez-Villa recently taught a class at North Loop Elementary School and had positive feedback from the participating parents as well as the North Loop partners. It was the first year the school offered the classes.
“We want (MCH Family Outreach) back next year,” said Teresa Torres, home liaison for North Loop Elementary. “We saw a difference in parents in the way they were communicating with their children.”
“Zahire was very down-to-earth as a teacher,” said Rosa Linda Oaxaca, counselor at the school. “She wasn’t preaching to them. She gave examples from her own family.”
Through the parenting classes, parents learn about the development of the brain and how it affects behaviors. Parents are also provided with tips and techniques for getting children involved in everyday chores and activities in order to teach them lessons. They also receive advice on discipline, the importance of maintaining a consistent schedule, and encourage playing with children in order to build a stronger bond.
Areli Alarcol, a mother of two, attended the classes after seeing it listed on the school events calendar. She said she had attended parenting classes before but felt this particular class was the best.
“I’m more patient and tolerant,” Alarcol said. “I wanted my children to be perfect, so it was constant fighting. When I backed off, it has given me more peace. I’m not as strict. My husband works out of town so I had to be the authority and it was overwhelming for me. I put pressure on myself that things had to be perfect. But now that I’ve backed off, it has made a big difference.”
Gonzalez-Villa said she teaches her students that “self-care is the key to nurturing.” She said she allows for time each week for parents to relax, have a cup of coffee and talk to each other.
“I felt like I was the only parent going through struggles with my kids,” Alarcol said. “But in class, you see that you’re not the only one.”
MCH Family Outreach has been able to bring positive changes to families that may not have otherwise known about the services thanks to partnerships in the community. These changes can have a lasting impact and, as seen through Saucedo and Alex, completely transform lives and restore families.
“Our mission is hope,” Gonzalez-Villa said. “With Lidia, she had lost hope. She was so down but she found hope and now she’s a completely different person. You can’t change the past, but you can