Smart from the Start has been successful in promoting change for young children and families living in challenging situations because of the unique, innovative and progressive aspects of our programming.
Our target population is unique, because Smart from the Start exclusively targets the lowest income families who are isolated, with parents/guardians who have historically not sought out or participated in voluntary services, and who are struggling with multiple complex issues.
Participating Smart caregivers were born throughout the world, countries including: China, Somalia, Haiti, Eastern Europe, Bangladesh, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Jamaica, Ecuador & the U.S. Family structures of current participants include single- and two-parent families, kinship and foster families, grandparents raising their grandchildren, and teen parents. Many of the families served are enduring the risks and challenges of recovery from substance use and/or experience of domestic violence. Our programming is uplifting, empowering, culturally sensitive and respectful. We are currently facilitating programming in five languages – English, Spanish, Haitian-Creole, Cantonese and Somali. Smart from the Start prides itself on celebrating the diversity of our families and promoting unity within and across communities.
Our model is ecological and holistic, recognizing that in order to ensure long lasting and sustainable change, we must address issues within communities and families, while promoting the healthy development of young children.
Our approach is to engage families from a strengths-based perspective, when traditionally social service agencies assess and address families from a deficit-based approach/medical model, looking at what is “wrong” with families, and how to “fix” them. Honoring and introducing families to their strengths helps to build trusting, mutually respectful relationships with families that inspire them to set and achieve goals they never imagined possible, with our support and guidance. We also take the time to learn about and build on the strengths participants bring to their role as parents, and at the same time introduce participants to positive, nurturing ways to interact with their young children.
Our outreach strategy is unique because we meet families where they are, rather than expecting them to come to us. Outreach includes door-knocking in the housing developments (1200 houses in Charlestown alone); visiting playgrounds, laundromats, hair salons, libraries, public pools, local businesses and other locations where families with children go; inviting partner agencies to visit the Smart from the Start space in the sites where programming occurs at Boston Centers for Youth and Families; and simply walking the streets to talk to families.
Our programming is customized to meet the specific needs of each community, and therefore is community and family-driven. This leads to a high level of retention and continuity, because families feel a sense of ownership, programs are responsive to what they determine their needs to be, and are scheduled at times that are convenient for them.
Our staff reflects the diversity of the families we serve. Many of the staff have experienced and triumphed over the same challenges that our families struggle with, and serve as role models to our families. This gives us a certain amount of credibility with our families, because we understand their struggles and can empathize with them on a different level. We also hire from the communities we serve, and from our parent population.
Our partnerships bring together traditional and non-traditional partners to work collaboratively. Our traditional agency partners unite to share resources, cross-train, problem solve, and work to improve access and utilization of existing programming. Our non-traditional partners include over 70 local business owners such as barbershop, laundromat and bodega owners. They all have signed pledges to be Smart from the Start Community Unity Partners. They have made donations to support programming, agreed to pass out new books and information to families and welcomed Smart from the Start play-to-learn stations in their businesses to help promote a community-wide effort to infuse our neighborhoods with early learning information and opportunities for families and young children.