CUNY SPS PEWL Program Helps Empower and Support Parents

Diverse family with one daughter smiling for the camera

The CUNY School of Professional Studies (CUNY SPS) celebrates National Parent Leadership Month this February with a spotlight on the Family Development Credential (FDC) Program managed by the School's Office of Professional Education and Workplace Learning (PEWL) unit.

PEWL coordinates the FDC training, in partnership with the NYC Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD), for front-line workers and supervisors from public, private, and non-profit health and human services systems. The training's emphasis is on empowerment and family support to reorient the way services are delivered.

The credential, issued by the Center for Culture, Health, and Human Development at the University of Connecticut, is earned after intensive coursework, an exam, and the submission of a portfolio.

The course, which is also offered at Lehman College and New York City College of Technology, is typically held in the fall and spring. Dr. Sonia Mercado, PEWL's FDC instructor, has been teaching the course at CUNY SPS for the past five years. 

"The FDC Program makes us look at things differently," explained Dr. Mercado. "We want to hear from the families. We want to hear about their strengths. We also help turn around their mindset and instead of looking at the deficits of everything, we show them to look at their strengths and what they have going well for themselves."

Dr. Mercado added that services have often only been available when a family is in crisis or about to disintegrate. She said interventions have focused on fixing or rescuing families, rather than helping families develop their capacity to solve problems and achieve self-reliance.

The FDC program reorients the way services are delivered toward a more family-focused and strengths-based approach. It also ensures that frontline workers across all systems are using the same approach to help families.

Christopher Sinkler, a family service worker at South Jamaica Family, was a bit skeptical of the program at first when his supervisor asked him to earn the credential. After the first class, he quickly became a convert.

"It was quite possibly one of the more academically enriching experiences I've had in all of my academic life," Sinkler said. "I really enjoyed the program."

Elisa Garner, a supportive housing case manager for Women in Need, a non-profit agency provider of shelter for homeless families in New York City, said she learned through the FDC training that families have goals and the strength to make them happen. "But no one ever has these types of conversations with these parents," she said. "They lack the confidence, so I try to restore the confidence level."

For example, if a parent needs services, Garner won't make the phone call for them. "I will sit there with them while they have a conversation and coach them if they need help."

Program Director Jennifer DePalma said, “As we recognize parents during National Parent Leadership month, we are reminded now more than ever of the impact that the FDC training has on those who work day-to-day to empower parents and families.”

Ernest Sakyi, care coordinator and health care manager at the Jewish Board of Family and Children's Services on Staten Island, agreed wholeheartedly.

"I loved every minute of the training," Sakyi said. "It was very eye opening and very innovative. It showed us the best way to approach families and individuals. I never thought that being able to provide children with a place to sleep was a strength of a family. I always thought that's a basic need and requirement. But I learned that is a strength that families have. They don't even know it's a strength they possess. Learning this has been incredibly helpful in my work."

About the CUNY School of Professional Studies

As New York's leading online school since 2006, the CUNY School of Professional Studies (CUNY SPS) offers the most online bachelor's and master's degree options at the City University of New York, and serves as the University's first undergraduate all-transfer college. With 26 degrees and numerous other non-degree and grant-funded workplace learning programs, CUNY SPS meets the needs of adults who wish to finish a bachelor's degree, progress from an associate's degree, earn a master's degree or certificate in a specialized field, and advance in the workplace or change careers. Consistently ranked highly by U.S. News & World Report for its online offerings, CUNY SPS has emerged as a nationwide leader in online education. The School's renowned and affordable online programs ensure that busy working adults may fulfill their educational goals on their own time and schedule.

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