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Be A Better Parent Even If Yours Weren't So Great

Bob Moffitt / Capital Public Radio

Facilitators Onniel Sanchez (left) and Martina Lepannen (right) lead a parenting class through the Mutual Assistance Network at the Arcade Community Center.

Bob Moffitt / Capital Public Radio

It's hard to be a parent.

Especially if you never had proper training.

 People who are considered "bad parents" may not be "bad"... just unskilled..  Organizers of infant and toddler parenting classes in Sacramento County hope to  teach the parents of school-age children how to be "good" parents.
For fifteen years, non-profit organizations in the Birth and Beyond Program have worked with Sacramento County to provide parenting classes for people with infants and toddlers.

The parenting classes are offered in the county's poorest neighborhoods.

Danielle Lawrence is the Program Director at the Arcade Community Center.  

"This particular part of this neighborhood has lots of violence, lots of killings, poverty, domestic violence, those types of things that bring a neighborhood down."

About two thirds of the parents have cases under the jurisdiction of Sacramento County Child Protective Services. CPS says one of every four parents or guardians identified as neglectful or abusive were themselves CPS cases as children.

Each week, six providers offer classes at nine locations.  The providers are trained by the county's Child Abuse Prevention Council (CAPC). All of the classes involve in-home visitation.

Facilitators of the Birth and Beyond classes focus on teaching skills parents should have learned as children: patience, coping, and... boundary recognition.

One woman in the class is guardian of a little girl who often runs away while the two are in public.

"You're yelling for her. You're screaming. And then you gotta run around. Before you know it you're running around the grocery store."

She uses cookies to bribe the child to behave.

Facilitators and parents in the classes share ways to set boundaries without being abusive.

"If my son does that, I'm like, 'Oh, no. We're out. We're gone. I ain't gonna chase you around the store. "

Many parents are also working through other county programs to deal with domestic violence, poverty, unemployment and drug addiction.

"If you could change anything about yourself, what would you change? I would just pick better friends and I would stay away from recreational ....behaviors. Yes. Other behaviors."

Martina Leppanen leads classes at the Arcade Community Center. She says she  empathizes with parents struggling to overcome their pasts. She was nine when her mom died.

"She was an addict alcoholic. So, I had bad issues as well. But, you know, I was like the wounded helper. Right? And then I really didn't have a relationship with my father. I was raised by an aunt and uncle. I didn't have those coping skills as well which led me down a dark path, but I was able to survive."

Leppanen says classes like the one she teaches now helped her set boundaries and cope with depression in non-destructive ways.

About 1200 parents have gone through the infant and toddler classes each year, and  that number is expected to triple because of a $1.8 million grant from the Sacramento County Department of Health and Human Services.  The funding will be used to offer classes to parents with school-age children.

This spring, Kendra Potter graduated from the infants and toddlers class.   

"They helped me look at myself to see that I need my time and I need to also love myself as well as my children to be able  give love off and to understand what the kids are going through."

Now, she's  looking forward to learning skills she needs to raise her seven-year-old.

In a study of 1943 families whose cases were handled by Sacramento County CPS from 2010-2013 more than 52 percent  were the subjects of repeat complaints. Once those families went through the Birth and Beyond program, the rate of repeat complaints dropped to 16 percent.

The program for parents of elementary-through-high-school-age students begins this week.

Bob Moffitt

Sacramento Region Reporter

Bob is the Sacramento Region Reporter. He has been at the forefront of the coverage of the Sacramento Kings' saga and the effort to build a new arena in Sacramento. He also covers education, business, environment, and sports stories.   Read Full Bio