Designing a Home

by Mary Peterson, Housing Specialistjob success
Heartbeat International

I recently downloaded a game on my phone for interior design. You are given a shell of a room and have to choose the perfect sofa, rug, and accent tables to meet the design briefing. There is a weird satisfaction for me in finding the find combination of color and balance and scale for a room – even though my own home is FAR from an interior design masterpiece! But, the game came to mind as an analogy. There are design elements to consider when creating a maternity housing program, all of which require balance and attention.

Here’s my take on the “fresh” key program design elements to consider in your maternity home:

  • A lived Christian experience. What better way to make the Gospel relevant than to be immersed in an environment of genuine Christian love? So many of the principles of our Christian life are now the basis of “research-based practices” – meaning, compassion, whole-person thinking, balancing autonomy with community, and more. Christ’s message continues to be for the flourishing and healing of our human nature – and social science is discovering that! Our homes create a safe place for “church” to be experienced by women who may have dismissed Christianity.
  • Resiliency skills. When you research “resiliency skills”, there isn’t a set list but some general themes emerge. These include spirituality, managing strong emotions, movement/exercise, breaking down a big goal into smaller tasks, social support, playfulness, and more. The research shows it is these types of activities and proficiencies that help hurting people overcome. It would be an interesting exercise to think deeply about being hyper-intentional about building these skills into your program – either explicitly (via a class, activity or curriculum) or implicitly (via your culture, policies and dynamic).
  • Trauma-aware approaches. There is undoubtedly a trend toward understanding the impact that prolonged toxic stress, especially during formative years, has on the well-being of clients over time. New knowledge of brain science is impacting how we think about the policies and practices of our work. As maternity homes are exposed to the ideas related to trauma informed care, we are seeing a variety of shifts in language, approach, and policies of programs.
  • Faster Intakes. As maternity housing programs grow in their knowledge of trauma-informed care, programs are exploring a simplified intake process. Instead of an in-depth exploration of her life’s journey, programs have begun experimenting with asking a limited number of questions, primarily focused on issues of safety. Additionally, there is a shift toward “opt-in” thinking with programs asking “Will this woman benefit from our program?” rather than “Does she fit our criteria?”
  • Longer Services. Often healing work takes time, relationship, and stability. We know that intuitively and the research backs it up. We’ve seen the trend toward longer stays at maternity homes for many years and now, there seems to be a high amount of interest in post-residential programming for ongoing support once the mothers leave the maternity home. In addition, homes are feeling the vacuum of fewer transitional housing programs due to shifts in federal funding priorities and there is significant exploration by maternity housing programs to provide apartment-style units.

There is no “perfect living room” in the design app I’ve been playing—it’s a matter of one’s own personal style with the limitations of available resources plus some principles of design. Similarly, there is no “perfect model” of maternity home. But the elements mentioned above provide some principles of design worthy of consideration as you create a beautiful maternity housing program.