Reaching families at risk and particularly marginalised groups in Latvia – The Guardian Angel Programme 

Families who are considered to be facing a high level of social risks often lack the type of knowledge and support that a caring extended family context might offer. The Guardian Angel programme aims to address this gap, with a view to preventing corporal punishment, neglect, and family separation. 

The program was developed by the NGO Centrs Dardedze in 2009. It is funded by the municipality of Riga, with additional financial and in-kind support from the private sector and other sponsors.  

Families with children under 2 access the programme via referral  

The programme targets families with children under the age of two and who are considered to face a high level of social risks. It aims to raise the self-esteem of parents and help them feel they are good parents who are committed to learn and become even better parents.  

Parents are usually referred to the programme by social services. The programme is mandatory if there are concerns about the safety and well-being of the child and for families where the child has previously been placed in alternative care due to neglect, violence, or other behaviour that has put the child at risk of harm. 

Trainers provide the knowledge and support that parents without a support system are often missing 

Sessions are designed to support parents to improve their parenting skills and to understand their children better – including how to cooperate and communicate with the child and how to adapt to specific situations according to the child’s age and development level.  

Group sessions meet twice per month in the evening, and are led by two trainers. The trainers provide the knowledge and support that parents without a support system are often missing. Each group agrees on and regularly revises the rules for group meetings.  

Each meeting last two hours, and follows the same structure: 

  • Parenting skills: Each parent shares with the group the latest developments of their child. This exercise sensitises the parents to their child’s development. They learn to understand what the child likes and dislikes and how the child learns. The parents develop their social, emotional, and communication skills. 
  • Singalong: The group sings a song together while the parents apply baby cream to their child. This ritual helps to strengthen the bond between parent and child. 
  • Mealtime: Parents and children eat a healthy meal together, which aims to facilitate discussions of nutritional habits and health. This part of the group meeting is particularly attractive to parents, and encourages them to join the programme and to continue attending the meetings. 

When the child turns two years old, the group hosts a graduation party for the family. 

Adequate and targeted support can prevent corporal punishment, neglect, and family separation  

Experience from the programme shows that adequate and targeted support can prevent corporal punishment, neglect, and family separation. The programme establishes traditions that parents take away and adopt also in the family home.  

Evaluations show that the programme has positive results with parents with low parenting skills – e.g. parents who have mild intellectual disabilities and parents who had drug abuse problems.  

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