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Jun 23, 2023

Insights from Community Wellbeing Focus Groups

Our team is currently engaged in a ‘strategic refinement’ process (in partnership with social impact firm, FSG) to help us focus on the most impactful strategies going forward, deepening our ability to advance our mission to work side-by-side with Western Montanans to improve the health of our communities.

To ensure that most impacted by health disparities have a say in shaping our future initiatives, we invited our partners and neighbors to the table to share their experiences and insights. FSG organized 5 community wellbeing focus groups (in spring 2023) with Montanans that face increased barriers to health. The groups included individuals from rural and low-income families, single parents, Spanish-speakers, Indigenous women and LGBTQ+ people.

The goals of the focus groups were to better understand concerns and opportunities related to parenting young children, participation in civic engagement, community visions for building power and strengthening the region’s early childhood systems and barriers that each of these communities experience.

Thank you to all who participated in the listening sessions – the information shared was illuminating and will help guide our team as we continue to build our next strategic plan. We are sharing themes and stories from these groups to amplify the voices of participants, and in hopes that the information will be beneficial to others working toward improved health outcomes for Montanans.

Dig into FSG’s summary memo here and/or read on for a synopsis.

Key themes and recommendations emerged across the five focus groups:

We need to normalize getting help. We all need help sometimes, sometimes more than others. We shouldn’t be looked down on just because we’re trying to survive and thrive.

Rural and Low-Income Families Group Participant

The biggest barriers to health and wellbeing included challenges meeting basic needs and challenges accessing public services due to stigma, lack of awareness, poor customer service, and racism. Participants recommended increasing access to services by streamlining enrollment processes, investing in navigators, reducing stigma in using social support services, and training service-providing workers to be aware of the needs of Montana’s marginalized populations.

It’s so hard when your lights are getting shut off or you don’t have food to think about bigger things. All the policies in Montana have made it harder and harder to vote, especially for people on reservations.

Indigenous Women Group Participant

Focus group participants shared that the biggest barriers to getting involved in community engagement were limited time and challenges in getting basic needs met,as well as a sense of disillusionment, or a concern of being not fully aware of/educated on policy issues.

Participants recommended increasing civic engagement and community power by leveraging a variety of tools (voter guides, mailers) and communities (young and older adults), making it easy for community members to get involved (compensation, building on past involvement), and engaging authentically with specific populations to ensure they feel involvement is safe and meaningful.

We were kind of isolated, but we have the Boys and Girls Club – it’s a rich and robust program in Montana. You could send your child every day after school ’til 6 and all weekend. We have a very high number of queer kids in the community, and they are so loved and accepted.

LGBTQ+ Group Participant

To strengthen the region’s early childhood systems, focus group members recommended reducing cost barriers for families to get childcare, and investing in evidence-based programs for parents and families and community centers for families – and especially for youth.

Indigenous women participants offered several culturally specific solutions to improve early childhood systems, including expanding the Parenting Leadership Training Institute outside of Missoula, supporting cultural connection for kids and tribes, mentorship, and places of belonging and continuing mutual aid on the reservation, which was important during the pandemic.

As we continue our strategic refinement journey, we are energized by the collective wisdom we have gained from our partners and neighbors. We are committed to incorporating your voices and centering the needs of the community in every decision we make.

Thank you again to the participants who took part in focus groups and shared their stories and needs candidly. Note: Headwaters Foundation compensated focus group participants for their time and engagement.

Read more from focus group participants here and see an update on our strategic refinement process here.