When Natasha Guerrero began surveying other parents in her community last year, she was surprised to learn how little quality time they were spending with their children.

“I was very judgmental in the beginning,” said Guerrero. “I was like, ‘Hey, I’m a mother of three. I would take my kids to the park every afternoon after school to play, go to movies, and often take them to Knott’s Berry Farm. A mother of one with a job should be able to spend time with their kid.”

At the time, Guerrero was not working and lived with the father of her three children. But then her situation, and her attitude, changed drastically when the couple split and she became a single mother forced to work two jobs five days a week — including every other Saturday — just to keep a roof over her children’s heads.

“A mother of one with a job should be able to spend time with their kid.” -Natasha Guerrero

“I would be so tired. I just wanted to hide when I got home,” Guerrero recalled. “I would help them with their homework, make them dinner, and help them take showers and get ready for bed. There was no time to read a book or play a game with them.”

In the midst of this twist in her life, Guerrero continued surveying parents about quality time with their children as part of her work on Best Start South Los Angeles/Broadway Manchester Community Partnership’s Community-Based Action Research (CBAR) Project, an activity funded under First 5 LA’s Building Stronger Families grant with Uplift Family Services.

CBAR is a collaborative approach to involve all stakeholders throughout the research process, from establishing the question, to developing data collection tools, to analysis and dissemination of findings. Best Start South Los Angeles/Broadway Manchester went through a 10-month process to identify the topic, collect the data, and share back the results with the community.

“Getting Best Start parents to engage in Community-Based Action Research is one of the ways we can build the capacity of parents to identify an issue and move toward actionable results to improve the lives of families,” said First 5 LA Program Officer Hector Gutierrez.

Working with three other CBAR leaders and inspirational moms from the Best Start Broadway Manchester partnership —Rocio Alfaro, Leticia Martinez and Shanice Sholes — Guerrero and her colleagues surveyed more than 300 families in the Watts Willowbrook and Broadway Manchester communities in the fall of 2017. A total of 210 of the surveys were found to be usable.

Among the key findings from the survey:

  • More than half of the households (51 percent) had at least one child under the age of 5
  • Affection/emotional connection was the highest ranked description of “what is quality time with your child(ren)?”
  • The lack of resources (55 percent) and time (65 percent) were identified as two of the highest ranked barriers for parents in spending quality time with their children

“It was like a slap in the face,” Guerrero said of her experience. “When we did the CBAR, I told everybody, ‘I’m sorry.’ I couldn’t understand why parents weren’t able to spend more time with their children. Now that I’ve been on both sides, I see the two different situations.”

“The community will continue to use the results from CBAR to think about policy opportunities to improve the resources that make their way to South L.A.” -Hector Gutierrez

Understanding that children with active, involved parents develop healthier social skills and attachments, the quartet put their research into action during the winter and spring to develop a “Quality Over Quantity” resource guide that featured the data results, as well as:

  • A quality time checklist
  • A write and wipe activity to have fun with your child
  • A community resource list (museums, libraries, parks, child development centers, YMCA, etc.)
  • Recipes for spending quality time with kids, baking cookies together, and showing love and affection

This summer, 750 of the “Quality Time” resource guides will be published — the culminating product of the CBAR project. But the journey is far from over.

“The work that has begun in Broadway Manchester through this project is just the beginning,” Gutierrez said. “Families are excited to share their results with elected officials, community-based organizations, and invested stakeholders interested in helping families live their best life in the community. The community will continue to use the results from CBAR to think about policy opportunities to improve the resources that make their way to South L.A.”

For her part, Guerrero has learned more than a few lessons from her CBAR experience. She has gleaned tips from other parents on spending quality time with her 2-year-old son and 7- and 9-year-old daughters, including coloring activities and games that teach math and ABCs. She also ensures that every Sunday is a family day where she and her kids go to a park, enjoy a barbecue, head to the pool or see a movie.

And the most valuable lesson Guerrero learned?

“Being able to see both points of view and learning from it made me realize that regardless of whether I’m working or not, I should treasure every moment with my kids,” she said.