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Many men and women in the Federal Government serve in a dual role as a worker and as a parent. But the roles of fatherhood and motherhood, unlike being an employee, are roles most adults assume without the benefit of training, education, or practical experience. The challenges of such an enormous undertaking leave many employees drained and distracted. The workplace is frequently a further extension of the home, complete with the worries and problems often associated with fatherhood and motherhood.
One effective and useful way to strengthen families and help mothers and fathers to balance the demands of work and caring for children is to establish a worksite support group. With supervisory approval and union involvement, a worksite support group can play a significant role in the enhancement of agency work/life programs.
Support groups bring together men and women who have similar concerns or difficulties and enable participants to share personal stories and helpful information. Members often find it reassuring to learn that their problems and concerns are not unique
Establishing a support group is inexpensive and relatively simple. The following information explains how to start a support group in your agency. These suggestions can be modified to suit the needs of your employees.
Establishing a support group should be based on a sufficient employee need and desire for one. One way to determine that is to conduct an employee survey to assess the extent to which men and women have parenting responsibilities or concerns and would like help addressing them. A survey should include questions about anticipated parenting concerns and employee interest in participating in a support group. If the survey results reveal an interest in starting one, consider the remainder of these steps
Keep in mind that a support group can be as small as five people and may grow as employees learn of its existence.
A support group can offer group members parenting and/or child care resource and referral information and explain personnel flexibilities available in their agencies that may help employees balance work and caregiving demands. A support group is also an excellent opportunity for employees with similar struggles and stressors to find one another and meet on a regular basis. This type of group and setting may allow such employees to find an outlet in which they can not only vent and talk but discover new sources of support, friendship and guidance.
There also may be interest in starting a support group newsletter that could include newspaper and magazine articles on parenting, child care and children's issues, resource and referral information, and the date and time of the next support group meeting. A newsletter is especially helpful to members who temporarily lose contact with the group.
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Because attendance at support group meetings may be sporadic at times, the consistent attendance of the group leader at the meetings can help to maintain the group. The group leader can be responsible for advertising future group meetings, arranging meeting space, and maintaining a current list of group members and their telephone numbers. (See section on Meeting Time and Place.)
If an employee assistance counselor or work and family specialist is not available to attend meetings on a regular basis, a leader may emerge from the group. This individual could be responsible for arranging the meetings or writing a newsletter, or these tasks could be shared by members on a rotating basis. Keep in mind that these are merely suggestions for a potential group leader. Each group will conduct itself differently.
Establish the time, place, and frequency of the support group meetings. Generally, employees like to meet at lunch time and will bring their lunches. Participants will decide how often they want to meet. Usually, a meeting room must be reserved in advance. Contact the agency building services office to find out how to reserve a room. Once a meeting time has been established, advertise the meeting at least two weeks in advance by placing announcements in a location where employees are certain to see them (bulletin boards or employee newsletters, for instance).
It is important to explore what members wish to accomplish at the meetings. Members should discuss the goals of the support group at the first gathering. The goals may change as new members are added or as problems or concerns change. These goals and purposes should be considered each time the group meets. Members also may wish to explain what they hope to gain from attending the meetings.
Support group members must agree not to discuss the personal aspects of the meetings they attend. Certainly it is appropriate to share resource information outside the group, but the personal problems and concerns of members should remain private. This agreement of confidentiality should be stated at the first meeting and whenever newcomers attend a meeting.
Support groups can be open-ended or closed-ended. An open group accepts new members at any time while a closed group establishes a group but does not add new members for a specified period of time. The person that establishes the support group may make this decision or the members present at the first meeting may decide. An agency parenting support group may be better suited to an open-ended format since many employees experience parenting difficulties suddenly.
Mothers and fathers, whether they have small children, teenagers, or adult children, sometimes need assistance with the parenting problems they encounter. From finding quality child care to locating a math tutor for a ninth grader, parenting resources are available in the community. An employee assistance counselor or work and family specialist can often provide such information. However, these professionals may not be readily available to the group on a regular basis or may have limited access to such information.
Employees can call Child Care Aware, a toll-free telephone number (1-800-424-2246) operated by the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, to locate a nearby child care resource and referral agency.
Employees also can contact their county government human services office or a local hospital. Both organizations have extensive knowledge of available parenting resources.
The Office of Work/Life Programs can provide parenting support groups with copies of the Child Care Resources Handbook for Federal Employees. This publication is written for employers and mothers and fathers of small children and includes information on selecting day care and lists national organizations and resources that can be of assistance to mothers and fathers.
Some topics may require the input of subject matter experts. The group can decide to bring in expert speakers such as the agency nurse or community organizations.