Danielle Monsrud knows that parenting is hard under the best of circumstances. Add housing and job insecurity, lack of health care, mental health problems and a constant battle to keep food on the table, and it's amazing anybody could be the parent he or she wanted to be. But Monsrud also knows that huge shifts aren't needed to set at-risk parents on a positive trajectory. As one of seven social workers for Hennepin County's Parent Support Outreach Program (PSOP), Monsrud connects clients to resources, from mental health professionals to food shelves to money managers, taking the pressure off so they can focus on their kids. She details the program, and her personal connection to it, below.

Q: What led to PSOP's creation? What needs weren't being met?

A: Everyone could use support around them, but a lot of our families were facing huge challenges: poverty, issues of addiction and domestic violence, lack of housing, physical and mental health issues. They were really stressed out and in need of support. PSOP is about prevention and early intervention for families so things don't get worse.

Q: The powerful undercurrent, I believe, is that, by addressing these urgent challenges, rates of child abuse and neglect will decrease. Is that accurate?

A: The bottom line is that when parents have more support and don't have to be thinking about their next meal or how to pay the rent, they'll have more time to be with their kids and spend quality time with them. People are good, but there are just a lot of challenges and barriers that cause bad things to happen.

Q: How do parents find you?

A: This is a voluntary program so some self-refer. It's humbling to ask for help. We also get referrals from Child Protection Services (CPS), which might have conducted an investigation but felt that the family just needed more support. We really want to support families before it's an issue, but people need to know where to go.

Q: What are the requirements for enrolling?

A: They need to be living in Hennepin County, be pregnant or the parent of a child under age 10, and have two risk factors, which might be poverty, domestic violence, chemical or mental health problems, but we can be flexible. The great thing about PSOP is there's not legislative requirements around it that puts so many barriers on it. We know we can't put people into boxes.

Q: How often do you meet with families?

A: I first conduct an intake where I ask, "What do you feel is the most important need?" It's really Maslow's hierarchy — basic needs first. People aren't going to worry about their mental health when they don't have food to eat. Winter clothing is a big one right now.

Q: How many families have you served and how are you funded?

A: PSOP served 1,015 families in 2018. We're funded by the state. The 2019 grant allocation was $844,770. Its longevity will be up to state policymakers.

Q: Are parents skeptical of your outreach?

A: Families are really scared of child protection. I tell them that I'm someone who wants to partner with them to make sure they're successful. I say, "You don't have to do the things I'm suggesting." We just really hope that the experience makes them more open to asking for help and involvement in the future. We want them to think, "Maybe there is a better way that I can parent. There are supports out there that can help me."

Q: Your task is to help them find those things. Where do you look?

A: I turn to a lot of community agencies, such as Lutheran Social Service and Pillsbury United Communities. We have a partnership with Fraser for diagnostic assessments related to autism. We have another resource in Hopkins for clothing. It really depends on where the client is. The majority are in Minneapolis, but we have families all the way out in Mound and Minnetrista.

Q: And you go to them?

A: I meet them in their homes, or in coffee shops, libraries, wherever they feel most comfortable. I work with up to 20 families at a time. I currently have a caseload of 19.

Q: This can be tough work. What draws you to it?

A: I had a lot of experience with social workers growing up and I wanted to give back and change things a little bit — maybe better the lives of other families.

Q: While most of your clients are mothers, you must also work with dads?

A: For sure. We want to engage fathers. Sometimes we work with relatives or guardians, if the parents have passed away.

Q: How long can parents stay with PSOP?

A: Up to six months, maybe nine. It's pretty short-term, but I've had a lot of successes in that short time, where families have been very thankful and happy that I came out and helped them with different services and supported them.

Q: Please share a success story.

A: I worked with a family for a while after a CPS report had been filed. The mother said she was so happy that a report had been made on her because someone then brought an angel to her. It felt really good. As a community, we really need to focus on the fact that families need to be supported.