UNODC conducts trainings that will eventually keep children and youth on the right path
Globally, many families are fighting hard to deal with the reality of their daily lives, particularly those who are less privileged. Challenges are inevitable for people in under-served neighborhoods in the cities or rural areas, where basic facilities such as schools or health clinics are scarce. Living as migrants in a host community or as a refugee in a settlement can also be very stressful, as can life be with little or no income. Also, living in a situation where conflict or general violence is the norm can cause anxiety. Such difficulties can negatively impact family life, including the behavior of children and youth.
However, the right support can help break the vicious cycle of families reproducing negative coping patterns. Protecting children by educating families can be a deal-breaker for their upbringing and future. This is exactly why "The Strong Families Programme" was first created over four years ago in 2018.
The aim is to give often vulnerable families the skills to deal with their daily yet complex lives. Research shows that strong family bonds protect family members. A family with close ties is far more resistant to dangers lurking in the surrounding community. The ties would often be enough to keep children and youth away from developing a criminal behavior or becoming drug users.
The main philosophy of The Strong Families Programme is that parents and other caregivers, even when particularly challenged by the outside world, are eager to give love and proper care to their children. It, therefore, makes sense to focus on the entire family when hoping to keep the young generation out of trouble.
"This made it really easy for us," recalls Alexander Fedulov, a long-time representative of the UNODC in Iran. In 2019 and 2020, we adapted and then piloted the Strong Families Programme in 10 family centers across Tehran and Karaj. We monitored closely, and a scientific evaluation confirmed the excellent results of the global experiences. The participating families clearly gained improved parenting skills; they increased their capacity to cope with stress, and the children behaved better. We could see that the mental well-being of entire families was much healthier. There were basically positive results on all psychosocial parameters that were examined – for caregivers and children alike. I still today want to thank the Government of Japan who funded the pilot. And I am grateful to the national partners who helped us with implementation.
It was quickly decided to expand the programme after the successful launch of the pilot version. In December 2021, UNODC, with support from the Iranian Drug Control Headquarters (DCHQ) and Ministry of Education (MOE), conducted a semi-virtual training to educate more facilitators for the Strong Families Programme; a training which was not only limited to theories but also provided practical hands-on skills.
"This is probably why we have been quite successful," Fedulov continues. "Our trainers need to support and develop the change people are experiencing. We know that change is a choice, and the ODC-trainers are making families stronger by listening to the burdens and challenges and at the same time giving them new choices on how to make a safer place for both themselves and their children.
The six-day training in December was conducted in a semi-virtual format. Trainers from UNODC HQ in Vienna participated virtually, while personnel from UNODC Iran met with the "students" – better known as facilitators - in Tehran. All facilitators, including two international facilitators, 51 future facilitators, and 66 participants, came from six public schools and four NGOs in Tehran.
The training itself takes the facilitators through the seven steps of the Strong Families Programme. For each step, there are training exercises, and simultaneously facilitators are introduced to an online platform created by UNODC, a tool to guide a facilitator through all steps, with tutorials on how to talk to and deal with families, and also how to support each other throughout.
"This part has without a doubt been our strongest asset," said Alexander Fedulov, UNODC Representative in Iran. "We not only tell facilitators what to do, we actually show them how it works. And we coach them in their interactions with the families where we ask them to talk to parents about stress and anxiety.
The European Union generously funded the first steps of the second phase of The Strong Families program in Iran. In 2022, ODC expects to roll out more provinces like Fars, Isfahan, Khorasan Razavi, Khuzestan, Lorestan, and Kermanshah.