Imagine what the world would look like if we all held an uncompromising vision of what it means to love children well.
For over 50 years, Ruth Beaglehole has been a leading voice in the call to end the violence and oppression of younger human beings. As a teacher of parents, caregivers and professionals in the practice of parenting with nonviolence, she has been a committed advocate in the human rights movement that works to protect all children. Her journey as an educator, mother, grandmother and activist is rooted in the story of her own childhood, her understanding of early trauma and that all human beings have the capacity to heal.
In the late 1960’s, Ruth left her native New Zealand with a degree in Education. She eventually settled in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles where she joined a collective of community activists, many of whom had been part of the Berkeley free speech movement. Through her work as a child care provider and preschool teacher, Ruth became aware of the inequities around access to childcare. Determined to start a preschool that would be affordable and responsive to the needs of the families in her community, her dream became a reality a few years later. In 1970, Ruth and a group of neighborhood parents founded the Silver Lake People’s Playgroup. Reflecting the values of peace and justice, the co-operative daycare center created a unique trilingual curriculum (English, Spanish, and American Sign Language) that was consciously anti-sexist and anti-racist.
Teen Parenting Program
A decade later, while facilitating a teen parent support group at Project Nateen, Division of Adolescent Medicine, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Ruth realized there was a need for a program that would support teen mothers who wanted to finish their high school diploma. She found an opportunity at the Business Industry Adult School (now known as the Los Angeles Technology School) and established the Teen Parenting and Child Care Program. After academic classes in the morning, the young women would join Ruth in the afternoon for a parenting class and support group in the onsite daycare center. During her daily connection with the mothers and their children, Ruth witnessed the painful legacy of generational trauma. Although the staff modeled nurturing and respectful interaction with the children — especially focusing on ending the common practice of spanking — the young women needed more. Realizing that finding her voice had helped the ongoing process of healing her childhood trauma, Ruth found ways to encourage them to share their voices. Through dialogue, tutoring and mentoring, theater, role-play and other activities, the teen mothers exchanged stories of early and ongoing exposure to violence, helping them to break the cycle of shame and silence.
Center for Nonviolence Education and Parenting
In 1999, guided by her conviction that physical and emotional punishment are violations of fundamental human rights, Ruth founded the Center for Nonviolent Education and Parenting, a nonprofit that held an uncompromising vision of what it means to love children well. For Ruth, parenting with nonviolence was a social justice imperative: teaching adults to treat children with the respect and dignity they deserve was a way to change the “power-over” paradigm. Based in Echo Park, CNVEP (later changed to Echo Parenting and Education) provided weekly classes in both Spanish and English — and, like Playgroup, was financially accessible to everyone. CNVEP became a hub of learning, support, dialogue and activity for families and agencies throughout Southern California.
Ruth’s commitment to nonviolence and social justice was not only expressed through the mission of CNVEP — she also wanted the practice of nonviolence to guide the internal, day-to-day workings of the organization. Most of the administrative and teaching staff was made up of the young women who had been in the teen parenting program with Ruth and who had a profound knowledge and understanding of the work. The board was composed of those Ruth knew would hold the integrity of the mission and vision.
Changing the Paradigm
Parenting with nonviolence was a daily practice for individuals but again, Ruth saw the bigger picture: a movement towards systemic change. From the beginning, CNVEP held contracts with social service agencies and domestic violence shelters, which led to numerous, and often long term, contracts and partnerships with schools, hospitals, government agencies, community and cultural centers, and faith based groups. For over 10 years Ruth was a thought partner with the Magnolia Community Initiative in Los Angeles, training and supporting the growth and development of the initiative. Through her mentoring and training of senior staff members, Ruth was instrumental in bringing a practice change model to the organizational culture of Children’s Bureau.
For parents too, the potential impact of parenting with nonviolence became bigger than their personal relationships. Inspired by the changes they were experiencing within their families, those who had taken classes wanted to bring the practice of nonviolence into their schools, workplaces, as well as their cultural, religious and community centers. To meet this need, Ruth initiated the Parent Educator Certification program that would ultimately train over 300 people: parents, caregivers, teachers and principals, family therapists, pediatricians, social workers — anyone who worked with children and families.
Parenting with Nonviolence Goes Global
As the community of parenting with nonviolence continued to grow locally, parents and professionals from other parts of the world invited Ruth to train them in the practice of raising children in nonviolence so they could carry the work into their families, schools and communities. Since 2011, Ruth has done extensive work in New Zealand with the Te Mauri Tau who hold the practice of Parenting with Nonviolence within a Maori context and who have put it in Maori language. To this day, Ruth travels twice a year to New Zealand to support the Te Mauri Tau’s work through trainings and community dialogue.
Ruth has created a global alliance of individuals and organizations committed to ensuring the physical and emotional safety of all younger human beings. Along with her work in New Zealand, she has led trainings and provided support in domestic violence organizations throughout Japan. In 2016, Ruth was invited by Africa New Day to Goma in the Republic of Congo where she shared the philosophy and practice of raising children in nonviolence with parents and community leaders. In 2018, she made her second trip to Chennai, India to conduct trainings and workshops with Parenting Matters, and to support them as they developed their curriculum and practice of Parenting with Nonviolence.
After leaving CNVEP in 2016, Ruth has continued to expand the community of advocates and practitioners through workshops, classes and speaking events. Ruth works with parents and caregivers directly, in schools and private homes and in ongoing support groups. She consults with individual families, teachers and professionals who work with families and children, and provides support to agencies who are committed to changing service and organizational practices that uphold the principles of nonviolence.
Ruth has also taken time to further develop the philosophy and practice of parenting with nonviolence. In 2020, Ruth completed the Principles and Practices of Parenting with Nonviolence: A Compassionate Guide to Caring for Younger Human Beings. A comprehensive teaching guide, Principles and Practices of Parenting with Nonviolence holds the fundamental principles of loving children with dignity and respect, while also treating parents with empathy and understanding that parents do the best they can with the information and resources they have. The social justice component of the guide gives parents, caregivers and parent educators the opportunity to see the bigger picture: that raising children in nonviolence is part of the human rights movement. When we pay attention to the safety and well-being of all children, we can ensure the safety and well-being for our own children and our communities.
Although parents, caregivers and professionals come from a wide range of neighborhoods, backgrounds and cultural practices, Ruth understands that most adults share painful stories of their childhoods and also want to love their children well. This is where the practice of parenting with nonviolence begins. A long time friend and colleague Katarina Wirangi Mataira captures the heart of the practice: “Ruth reminds us that this is the real work of parenting well — healing ourselves in order to grow the sacred connection of a parent and their child.”
Ruth Beaghlehole currently lives in Los Angeles, California. She is the author of Principles and Practices of Parenting with Nonviolence: A Compassionate Guide to Caring for Younger Human Beings, Mama, Listen! Raising a Child Without Violence:A Handbook for Teen Parents, and co-author of Nonviolent Parenting: A Parent Education Curriculum, the School Readiness Learning Module for the Northeast Los Angeles Center, and the It Takes a Community curriculum for the LA County Department of Mental Health. She has received numerous awards including the National Association of Social Workers California Chapter 2018 “Citizen of the Year” award and the Betty Fisher Award from the LA County Domestic Violence Council.