It was a cold, snowy Friday morning in South Boston, but walking into Julie’s Family Learning Program it felt like a spring day. Their blue tile floors and cheery decor made me feel an immediate sense of comfort and welcome. Julie’s is a member of Full Frame Initiative’s Greater Boston Network. They are a community-based family support and education program, founded in 1974, committed to enabling strong, stable, healthy families. They work with parents and their children to break cycles of poverty.
I was there with my colleague, Anna, to hear about their work directly from their staff. We wanted to learn about how Julie’s supports families in the full frame of their lives, and what that looks like in daily practice.
As we sat around the tables in one of their classrooms, deep in conversation, we heard how the Julie’s team creates safe space for families to be their whole, even vulnerable, selves by suspending judgment. One staff person mentioned their goal claiming ceremony, which takes place every four months, as a practice that she feels speaks to the culture of Julie’s.
At Julie’s nothing is too big, or too small, to be celebrated. During the goal claiming ceremony, the parents each share triumphs significant to them, such as quitting smoking or getting to Julie’s on time, with 3 children, on public transportation. Each moment is applauded and honored equally.
This practice speaks to Julie’s philosophy and approach; each staff person establishes a relationship with the family members based on what’s important to that family. Staff do not prioritize for anyone or prescribe a service or intervention based on the family’s “issues.” When Susie’s (not her real name) son was diagnosed as autistic, Julie’s staff helped coordinate care with early intervention services at home. But as important as the actual services, staff allowed Susie the space to accept and process her child’s diagnosis on her own terms, and to even grieve. Julie’s staff understood that Susie needed both meaningful access to relevant resources for her son, as well as to feel emotionally safe, before she could turn to her own educational goals.
The way Julie’s staff supported Susie provides a snapshot of what Full Frame practice looks like in action in that program. They are listening to how people in programs define success for themselves in order to support them to go from making change to sustaining change in their lives. Full Frame practice, as demonstrated by Julie’s, requires providers to acknowledge what is significant for each individual or family, to suspend judgement, and to support people in reaching a full sense of wellbeing.
Leora Viega Rifkin is FFI’s Network Engagement Manager. She staffs the Greater Boston Full Frame Network and in her role spends time at the member programs to document how Full Frame practice looks in a variety of practice settings. For a list of Greater Boston Full Frame Network members, click here.