Community Cafés

Solution Story from the Early Childhood Partnership of Adams County

The Early Childhood Partnership of Adams County (ECPAC) began holding Community Cafes in order to allow parents in their area to explore topics of interest, find common ground, and build social connection. The cafes also work to assist agencies in partnering with parents who are leaders (or potential leaders) in their community. This effort began with an initial planning phase, during which ECPAC spent 6-9 months researching an ideal parent leadership program model as part of their overall focus on building Protective Factors and strengthening families. They eventually settled on community cafes because of the active engagement, inclusion, and leadership development of parents. Following the planning phase, ECPAC paid for facilitated trainings in the model, and staff have traveled out of state multiple times to work with a consultant.

Seven hands holding cups of coffee in the middle of the table.

ECPAC initially took the lead in hosting the cafes, but have since actively shifted the leadership role to parents and community members, who also come up with topics of interest. Parents are trained prior to holding cafes, and can then utilize the cafes as a way to refine their leadership skills and engage with their community. Some cafes focus on strengthening families following the Protective Factors framework, some have been connected to other supports in the community, and some focus on building social connection. The overarching goal is to help provide families with what they need to feel connected to their community.

Generally, the cafes last two hours and consist of casual conversation, with some questions prepared in advance. If parents have specific concerns, they try to develop the questions to address them, which increases participation and engagement.

ECPAC strives to continually provide a welcoming environment for these conversations, and provides food and childcare, which has been very important to the success of the project. These factors make it easier for parents to attend and feel comfortable enough to have authentic conversations that build connection. All parent cafes are held right after parenting classes, which last between 8 and 16 weeks, so participating parents generally have some connection to each other already. The cafes allow them to deepen these connections by delving into community problems together and seeking solutions. In these discussions, the topic of social norms around seeking and receiving help from others comes up frequently. Families recognize the barriers they face in asking for help, and have talked about what they can do differently to change that on an individual level.

Sometimes, parents want to cover topics that fall outside of ECPAC’s scope of work. In those instances, ECPAC tries to connect those parents to other organizations in the community.

One key lesson learned in this project so far is that it did not work for ECPAC to hold cafes on their own. They needed a way to connect to parents more directly, and had very limited success in “pop-up” cafes (even when held in school or other areas that parents already visit). Another challenge is investing in parent engagement that doesn’t always occur; some parents have been trained and have committed to holding cafes of their own, but haven’t followed through with doing so. It’s important for them to find parents who want to (and have the capacity to) commit to the model. However, once parents hold a cafe, they often are very enthusiastic about continuing. Lastly, although the model they adopted was intended to have parents and community members participating in the cafes together, the participants ended up being mainly parents. While this creates a place of trust, where parents can voice concerns without being in the presence of community organization representatives or other community members, they also see that it might be valuable to have community partners engaged as well.

In post-café evaluations, parents are reporting increased leadership skills, increased knowledge of their community, and increased competence. Now that ECPAC is progressing in their development of a group of parents who are committed to continuing this work, they expect to have a better understanding of this impact on a broader scale.

Advice on Replication

ECPAC has trained individuals from multiple organizations in the community cafe model, including Denver Early Childhood Council, Catholic Charities, Denver Indian Family Resource Center, and more. They are also working to make the cafes replicable for family members to do on their own (with ECPAC providing support/materials as needed). For another organization to replicate this structure, ECPAC staff recommend being formally trained in the model to become fully competent. While it is possible to access some materials for free, they believe that it likely wouldn’t be enough guidance to run this program successfully. They also recommend structuring the events in ways that encourage parent participation and make it easy for all parents to attend as per the model: hold cafes after a related community event, be consistent, provide childcare and snacks, and so forth. They note that while the materials are fairly minimal, one of their main investments is the cost of childcare.

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