JF&CS News Fall 2014

Peggy KaufmanWhen Peggy Kaufman, MEd, LICSW, joined JF&CS 25 years ago, she was tasked to develop a family support group. At the time, most groups focused on families with older children. But Peggy believed strongly that connections, support, and nurturing must begin at pregnancy, or at least when the baby is a newborn. Thus the JF&CS Center for Early Relationship Support® (CERS) was born!

From the start, the mission of CERS has been to support mothers and their babies as they begin their relationship together. In 1989, CERS served 21 moms with 17 community volunteers and one staff. Today, 70 volunteers and 35 staff support close to 5,000 people every year from all cultures and religions throughout Greater Boston and the North Shore. The center recognizes that nurturing maternal strengths within a caring community promotes secure infant-parent relationships.

"I am not aware of any other program that offers the range of interconnected programs, providing both support and intervention for a family that is pregnant or has a new baby," says Peggy. "Whether a mom has postpartum anxiety, is frozen in the relationship with her baby, or has experienced trauma earlier in her life, we are able to serve as a comprehensive resource, providing a multitude of services as well as a close network of external experts."

CERS has helped countless families with invaluable guidance and resources through its well-known Lauren & Mark Rubin Visiting Moms® program as well as through clinical interventions, parent consultations, and professional training.

One mom, who participated in a new mother's group for 10 months after her baby was born, recounted how people she met are still her closest friends and that connecting with them changed her life.

Another mom, who received support from the CERS program for parents with preemies, said the JF&CS staff taught her that she could be more than just a "medical mom" to her very sick baby. The staff supported her in the NICU, reminding her who she was, who her baby was, and all she could be for her preemie.

We asked Founding Director Peggy Kaufman to reflect on a quarter century of providing support to new parents and why the center has been so successful. Here is what she had to say:

Ubiquitous Motherhood
First-time mothers face many of the same concerns and joys from generation to generation. "A lot of women who volunteer for CERS do so because they remember their early experience of being a new mother – the isolation, the uncertainty of what to do, of how to be, when to call, whom to call – it is the toughest job and there is no roadmap," says Peggy. "Every parent and baby is different, and we need to build buffers of support. Some volunteers had babies 45 years ago, and they had the same experience women are having today."

Changing Times
While many factors impacting infant-parent relationships have not changed, many have. In the past 10 years, Peggy notes, the economy has had a significant effect on families, especially among the working and middle class. Families that were able to do well enough on one income no longer can. And some cannot afford extra necessities like a special sleeper rocker for a baby with terrible reflux or time off for a mother who experienced a traumatic birth and is in no way ready to return to work. "Economic changes have had a huge impact on families being able to make choices in the interest of their healing and care for their babies," Peggy says.

CERS Meets the Challenges
To help serve the greater volume and scope of needs, which can require time-consuming research and legwork, CERS recently hired a family resource coordinator and established a vulnerable families team. Peggy says these resources provide the missing personal connections and community support needed by parents to manage day-to-day.

"What's exciting about CERS is that we're able to respond to changing needs," Peggy explains. "JF&CS has built a foundation of services that allows us to adapt and adjust to different populations. Our structure also enables us to continuously deepen and enrich the work we do." For example, CERS now provides long-term service to babies and families who have very complex histories, such as substance exposure.

"It is reassuring to note that what we imagined to be important 25 years ago – supporting families at the earliest stages of parenthood – has been scientifically proven 25 years later in research on brain development," adds Peggy. Necessity, and lots of imagination, are truly the mother of invention.

In honor of our 150th anniversary, JF&CS published a special 150th anniversary newsletter. View a PDF of the entire newsletter online.