Parents Anonymous Helps to Prevent Abuse Through Child Care

With a service that Illinois Parents Anonymous (PA) is offering at its 65 sites throughout the state, the organization is helping people on two levels: parents who need support and children who need care. PA received a $40,000 grant from the Child Abuse Prevention Fund in December 1996 to improve the children's component of its program -- a child care service for clients who otherwise would not be able to regularly attend their weekly meetings.

The parents served by PA are either at risk of abusing their children or have already abused them. Participation is voluntary, anonymous and free. Survey results of the organization show that parents join PA most often because they feel stressed out and they want to improve their parenting skills and want to learn better ways to control their anger. According to Executive Director Maureen Blaha, many of the parents were abused as children and want to break the pattern.

While parents meet with their support groups, their children are supervised in a separate area by volunteer child care specialists. This provides a safe and structured environment for the children in which they can interact with others in their peer group. The ages of the children vary from preschool-age up to age seven. Ultimately, Blaha said, the child care specialist serves as a role model to the children by interacting with them in a nurturing way as they begin to learn techniques that help them relate to others.

Along with non-violent interaction, development of self-esteem is an essential focus of the children's component. During the one-and-a-half to two-hour sessions, the children work on arts and crafts projects that can be completed the same day, so they feel a sense of accomplishment. They also receive a healthy snack and participate in an expression and sharing activity, at which time they can talk about their feelings.

"It's consistent and predictable. It's a routine that the children learn to trust and can count on from week to week," Blaha said. "We work to enhance their self-esteem so that they begin to feel better valued as people."

With its LANs-administered grant, PA has begun a process of strengthening the training of its child care specialists. The first step, an assessment survey of the skills, training and program material needs of the child care specialists, has already been completed. The organization also received ideas from a focus group that was conducted with parents, facilitators from the parents' and children's groups and child development experts.

PA plans to create a directory that will assist local organizations in recruiting qualified caregivers. A "train the trainer" workshop designed to familiarize PA regional staff and child care specialists with the new materials is also being planned. Blaha estimates that everything will be finished by July 1.

Implementing these improvements will enable PA to offer more consistent support to the children it serves. As a result, the children will have increased self-esteem and an ability to positively relate to peers. In addition, enhanced interaction with the child care specialist will give the children the ability to demonstrate trust and non-violent conflict resolution.

The development of the children's component will not only benefit the children but their parents as well. Fifty-three percent of the parents surveyed said their consistent participation hinged upon the availability of child care.