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A Family Strengthening Milestone


The moment after he was born in New Mexico, Dr. Jaiya John was removed from his mother’s custody. In his first 9 months – alone, in foster care – he was so severely neglected that he didn’t develop sufficient muscle tone to sit up.

Decades later, John got up and stood before an audience of more than 450 Welcome Baby and Select Home Visiting staff and told them how positive experiences with poetry, Tibetan holistic medicine, social workers and other helping professionals helped him dedicate his life’s work to supporting human services professionals and displaced children.

John’s inspiring presentation at the first ever Family Strengthening Network Summit on June 2 in Los Angeles was among several by speakers that helped highlight the importance of the audience’s work supporting two of First 5 LA’s core investments: Welcome Baby (WB) and Select Home Visiting (SHV) programs.

“Today marks an important milestone: it is the first time we have brought all of you together – from Welcome Baby to our Select Home Visiting programs. Together, you represent the largest Home Visiting investment in the country. ” - First 5 LA Executive Director Kim Belshé

“Today marks an important milestone: it is the first time we have brought all of you together – from Welcome Baby to our Select Home Visiting programs,” First 5 LA Executive Director Kim Belshé told the audience, which represented nearly 40 WB and SHV entities in Los Angeles County. “Together, you represent the largest Home Visiting investment in the country. Together, we are building strong children, echoing the words of Frederick Douglass: ‘It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.’” 

The Welcome Baby program offers parents support through free, voluntary visits provided at home before and after a child’s birth until the child is nine months old at 13 participating hospitals that serve the Best Start communities. In addition to maternal screenings for depression and developmental screenings of infants, trained professional home visitors provide mothers with information and support on positive parenting, child health and development, and links to other community services. The program is voluntary and available to families at no cost, regardless of income status.

Families who need additional support are eligible to receive services from one of First 5 LA’s more focused home visiting programs, which work with families more frequently and up until the child is three to five years old based on the family’s needs. These national program models include Healthy Families America, Parents as Teachers, and Positive Parenting Program (Triple P).

In addition to John, who is the founder of Soul Water Rising, the audience also heard from Dr. Jacquelyn Christensen, the Los Angeles Child Guidance Clinic’s Early Intervention Training Institute Coordinator, who focused on resilience within families and children.

Christensen likened estimating the trajectory of a child’s development to efforts to predict a hurricane’s development. Often the image of a hurricane trajectory starts small, but then widens due to the many unknown factors that influences its path. Similarly, a child’s life is not a prescribed path, as there are multiple factors that can influence their life, and we cannot predict the final end point. However, there is one common denominator for resilience: relationships with others.

Speaking of relationships with others, networking within their profession was also a key goal for participants in the summit, said Janice French, Director of Programs at LA Best Babies Network, which co-sponsored the event.

“While the work that people do here is all about developing relationships with families, it’s also important to build relationships with their peers so they learn from each other and learn about other programs in different agencies,” French said.

Dr. Christensen also expanded on the protective factors and how they support children and families. As she noted, kids are often like orchids or dandelions – some children are more fragile, while others are hardier. However, all have the same potential for growth and success – we just need to find the best fit possible for each child and provide families with the right support.

Barbara Andrade DuBransky, First 5 LA’s Interim Director of Program Development, echoed that thought at the summit.

“This summit is very moving because I’m aware of the commitment of every person in this room,” DuBransky said. “They support parents and parents support children, and they are going to be able to build more supportive communities.”

First 5 LA’s Family Strengthening Network

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