Strengthening marriages keeps immigrant kids at home, out of trouble

August 11, 2015

El Centro, a community center operated by Catholic Charities in Trenton, New Jersey, for the city’s large Latino population, is keeping immigrants kids in their homes and out of trouble by helping their parents develop a stronger marriage.

The center’s “Within My Reach” course, funded by an HHS Healthy Marriages grant, helps couples strengthen their relationships. They learn about communicating effectively, respecting each other, understanding their differences, resolving conflicts and problems, and so much more.

“We want to strengthen the relationship so that both the individuals are on the same path, communicating, honoring, and respecting each other, which is so good for them and their kids,” says El Centro Director Roberto Hernandez. “The kids see good relationships. They see what marriage is about.”

Immigrant families face a host of pressures as they establish themselves in a new country, and family relationships can become strained. To ease those pressures, El Centro has made strengthening marriage and family relationships a priority.

In addition to financial pressures, immigrants experience changes in their traditional family dynamics. For example, immigrant children often assimilate more quickly than their parents, learning English through school, interacting easily with those outside their family and ethnic community, and mastering use of technology and social media. Parents, who are primarily focused on providing for their families, lag behind, which puts them at a disadvantage in helping their children navigate their new world. As a result, their authority is diminished and their children venture elsewhere-peers, gangs, popular culture-for advice and information. This can lead to trouble for the kids and conflict in the home.

“If we can elevate the position of the parents in the home, the kids are more likely to stay at home,” says Hernandez. “We encourage them to educate themselves and become as resourceful as possible.”

El Centro provides tools to help people become “better spouses, parents, neighbors, and members of the community,” says Hernandez. In addition to marriage strengthening, El Centro offers ESL classes, technology training, parenting education, counseling, and other courses that serve as helpful resources to vulnerable Latino families.

Over the years, El Centro has truly grown into its vision as a “one-stop shop” for families to receive stability resources, enabling a holistic model of support that truly helps people.

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