How Hand in Hand Instructors Help Homeless Parents Feel Heard

The summer before Susan Derby began a graduate degree in Social Work she decided to run a class on connection parenting skills to a group at a non-profit housing facility in Los Angeles, CA. The organisation provides shelter for homeless families with children, and Susan, a Hand in Hand Instructor, thought that visiting would be an enriching introduction to her future work in the community.

She went into the first session ready to teach Hand in Hand’s Starter Class – a 6-week program designed to introduce five tools that helps parents connect with their children.

But she soon realized that she needed to listen more and teach less.


“These adults were trying to get their basic needs met,” she says, and so she pared down coverage of four of the tools to just the essentials. The one that Susan stuck with was one that seemed immediately to resonate. It was Listening Time.

Listening Time is when parents are paired up or sit in small groups and share their experiences in parenting, one at a time, for a set amount of time.

“To those who were resistant, I said, ‘Talk about anything, talk about your day,'” Susan recalls.

Suddenly, they had a lot to tell.

For the newly homeless moms, and one dad, that attended the sessions, life has been beyond hard. There had been ongoing adversity. The need to clothe and feed their families was very real. The need to find jobs took mental and emotional space. Living within a system – however worthy and helpful like the one this agency provides – meant that much more of their time was spent having people tell them what to do rather than be able to hear about their circumstances.

Listening Time filled that space.

And over the weeks, as their Listening Times progressed, a trust began to form – between the parents and their instructor, so that Susan could begin to introduce some of the other parenting tools.

There was scepticism, but there were breakthroughs. One mom admitted that she had tried Staylistening – a tool where a parent is encouraged to listen to a child cry and support them until they are done – and raved about its success. “She listened to him instead of reprimanding him,” Susan says.

Susan says she worried that her position of privilege would be offensive. “Most wondered what I could possibly offer. I told them I didn’t know what it was like to be in their shoes.”

But by the end of the six weeks, Listening Time had really stuck, providing residents with a tool for long-term support.

Hand in Hand Parenting is a non-profit organisation that provides funds to instructors like Susan to reach vulnerable communities. Find out more here.

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