Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation
Catholic Charities’ Butler County office received a phone call a few months ago. It was from a childcare center in West Chester. They were currently in need of help with a 4-year old who showed aggressive behavior toward staff and other children. Connor hit, threw toys and pushed individuals. He was identified as a potential safety risk.
Catholic Charities’ Early Childhood Mental Health (ECMH) consultant, Kathryn Reese, met with Connor’s mother and learned that his birth had challenges and impacted her health. Kathryn also learned that Connor had negative experiences at his last childcare center and showed aggressive behavior toward his 18-month old sister.
After the meeting took place, Kathryn provided Connor’s mother and father with an action plan for solving Connor’s issues. The plan included a focused approach on rebuilding the mother/son relationship, occupational therapy for his sensory issues, and attendance of the summer camp for building of his social skills.
Catholic Charities has heard back from Connor’s mother. She has noticed a positive change in her son’s behavior through simple things such as listening and following through the first time he is asked to do something – which his mother feels is a BIG accomplishment. The family is now excited for Connor to start his pre-school program this Fall.
Strengthening the Family
Little Caitlin giggled in delight watching her sundress twirl around her legs on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. As she spun in circles on the cafe sidewalk, her mother told the story of how they got to this spot and how far they’ve come on their journey toward healing.
It came like a lightning bolt from nowhere, the stroke that nearly killed Caitlin’s dad and Cindy’s love of a lifetime, Matthew, this past October. Caitlin was there when it happened. She brought her daddy a trashcan when he said he was feeling sick. Cindy was at work at her new job not knowing that she had a cell phone full of missed texts and calls. Matt survived and is making great progress. But their old lives, the way things used to be, ended that day to be replaced by months in ICU, emergency surgeries, scary procedures, a blur of white coats, rehabilitation and care plans.
“It’s been a long road,” said Cindy as she watched her daughter play. “We were very blessed to have Caitlin in a great daycare facility. Michelle of Catholic Charities Southwestern Ohio was already working with Caitlin’s class teaching them social skills, how to handle emotions and deal with their feelings through Incredible Years®. Incredible Years® is an evidence based 30-week program that teaches anger management and social skills to children 8 and under. When the daycare found out about Matt, the director told us that we might be interested in working with Michelle to deal with Caitlin’s behavioral concerns following the stroke. “I was so focused on my inner turmoil that I didn’t really catch on right away that she (Caitlin) was hurting, too. Michelle was a tremendous help.”
For 3 months, Michelle, a trained Early Childhood Mental Health Consultant funded by Catholic Charities, met with Caitlin and Cindy for consultation in the classroom. Behaviors in the classroom were stabilized through coaching, calm down strategies and classroom support.
From there, Catholic Charities progressed to address Caitlin’s mental health challenges. Over 6 months, mother and daughter each had an hour-long session once a week. When providing counseling to the young family, Michelle, also a licensed mental health therapist, would even meet them at the daycare saving extra trips and lost time. Her counseling alleviated guilt and provided guidance for how to keep the family together. Michelle soothed psyches and tended to their souls. This cost Cindy nothing, and that is a true blessing.
Before the stroke, they were a two-income family just trying to stay healthy waiting for Cindy’s benefits at her new job to kick in. After the stroke, Matt was definitely unable to work. With all of her new care-taking responsibilities, Cindy had to leave her job, too. Catholic Charities providing this service was the only way they could have gotten this much needed help.
Matt is much more independent now and Cindy’s been able to go back to work. With the skills gained in her work with Michelle, Cindy has been empowered to lead her family to continued growth and healing. And little Caitlin is eagerly looking forward to starting kindergarten this fall.
Catholic Charities has enlightened Cindy’s way on this “long road” her family travels together. Despair has been replaced with hope. Sadness and anger have been quieted and tamed making way for laughter and joy. Feelings of guilt and blame have been cleared away making room for new family memories— catching lightning bugs with dad, swimming at grandma’s, dreaming new dreams—going faithfully forward to where the road leads next.
Parent Project/Loving Solutions Program
Laura was referred to the Parent Project/Loving Solutions program
by the drug court liaison after asking for help with her daughter’s
challenging behaviors. Her five year old daughter, Krista, would
only listen to her father and not Laura.
Since attending the program and utilizing the strategies she’s
learned, Laura has reported many improvements at home. She
now sees her relationship with her daughter as a mother-daughter
relationship rather than a “friend” relationship.
Before the program, Krista would often cry and throw temper
tantrums when she did not get her way. This would lead Laura to
“give in.” Now that Laura is utilizing the tools that she learned
in Loving Solutions – such as creating routine, and standing her
ground when enforcing house rules – she has noticed significant
change in Krista’s behavior. She feels that Krista now sees that her
mom will not change the rules or “give in” to stop a temper tantrum.
Laura has two other children who do not currently live in her home
and plans to implement the tools and strategies she has learned
from Loving Solutions when she is reunited with her additional
Principal Teaches Parents to Love
Dr. Nancy Hulshult takes a break at the end of day at Hamilton Freshman School. All of the students boarded buses or cars and are on their way home. However, the day is not over for Hulshult who eagerly describes Catholic Charities Parent Project that she leads one evening a week for her students and their parents.
Sometimes families are referred to Parent Project due to truancy concerns. Other times parents will tell Hulshult, “I don’t know what to do.” This is her opening to invite them to the Parent Project, held weekly over 10 weeks at the school.
“Where else can they get a free hot dinner for their families, free childcare for their small children, classes for teenagers and support from other parents struggling with similar issues,” asks Hulshut. “Parents don’t want to hear that they’re bad parents. We emphasize how ‘WhyTry’ can help their kids at the same time.”
Parent Project participants are often dealing with extreme adolescent behaviors – children running away from home, smoking pot, skipping school and more.
“It’s challenging parenting today. We teach parents how to break into the social media teen culture. You have to have the courage to ask questions and break old habits. Grounding children for life – or long stretches of time doesn’t work because they assume they can’t get in any more trouble than they already are. Instead, take away all privileges – phone, TV, going out, etc., for one to three days. Give them an opportunity to start over,” Hulshult advises.
During the first six weeks of class, parents talk about extreme behavior they are experiencing. They are encouraged to focus on just one behavior to address. Then they develop an action plan to tackle the one behavior. They role-play how they will address the behavior with their child and then execute the plan. They return to class and share the results.
“We encourage parents to tell their child they love him or her every day. Parents have to say it so their children can hear it. They have to write it so their children see it,” Hulshut said. “Too often parents say they show their love by preparing meals or buying things for their children. This isn’t enough. You have to tell them you love them every day.”
Still this is difficult for some parents who confess, “I’m not sure I love my kids right now.”
This is important particularly for kids who have developed bad habit such as substance abuse.
Hulshult reassures these parents that what they are feeling is okay. As parents attend classes, they begin to change. Their children are also changing as they participate in WhyTry. The instruction for the teenagers is hands-on, visual and based on metaphors. They compare their lives to being on a roller coaster with no clue on where the roller coaster is taking them. They learn about labels and how to avoid being defined by labels.
“We say you’ll never argue with your child again. You’ll learn there is no way to win an argument with your child. You’ll learn better ways to manage their behavior,” Hulshult said. “Parent Project is geared for the hard-to-handle child but it is really a good class for anybody. Teenager are challenging. Anything you say to a young adult, you cannot take back. They will remember it for the rest of their lives.”
Guiding Eli to a Happier Path
Eli’s mother enrolled him in daycare so the two-year-old could benefit from a structured setting and make friends. He benefited by being diagnosed with autism.
His teacher first noticed Eli struggling to engage with his peers and expressing himself. Transitioning from one activity to the next was difficult. She talked to his mother who also had concerns. The teacher and administration team reached out to Catholic Charities for an Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation.
“I observed Eli’s daily challenges, his interest in activities that required repetition and predictability,” said Maribel Gonzalez of Catholic Charities. “Eli didn’t use words or gestures to communicate. He did not make eye contact nor responded to his name.”
After consulting with his mother, Maribel conducted an in-depth observation and recommended a multidisciplinary team assessment to rule out Autism. Eli’s mother was apprehensive at first, but consented. The Autism diagnosis was difficult for her but Catholic Charities helped her cope with the news and guided her to additional resources to support Eli.
Maribel continues to work with Eli’s teacher and mother. Maribel shares strategies that enable Eli to engage with other children, promote language and prepare for transitions. His mother is learning about Individualized Education Plans so she can be an advocate for her son as he progresses in school.
Grandfather Takes Charge
Butler County Juvenile Court referred Cole and his parents to Catholic Charities Parent Project and WhyTry program. But after three classes, Cole dropped out.
His parents described Cole as angry, disrespectful, dishonest and unwilling to accept responsibility for his actions. His behavior continued to deteriorate to the point his parents sent Cole to live with his grandfather.
Jacob, the grandfather, found Cole to be just as disrespectful and angry. So he took Cole back to Catholic Charities and re-enrolled in Parent Project and WhyTry. Soon he learned new techniques for dealing with Cole. Jacob applied what he learned in class. He wrote an action plan aimed at improving Cole’s behavior. Jacob consistently applied behavioral modification tools in gained from the Parent Project. Cole responded appropriately.
They had a few bumps along the way. Cole was grumpy at the start of each class. When Cole tried to leave class during the third session, his facilitator asked why he didn’t want to be there. The facilitator connected with Cole and earned the teen’s respect.
At the end of the program, Cole told his facilitator he was sad to leave. Jacob and Cole both gained a lot from the class. Cole is no longer angry all the time. He’s learned how to manage his emotions and his behavior improved.
The Parent Project is a 10-week parent education and support program designed specifically for parents of strong-willed or out-of-control adolescent children. The program provides strategies to defuse arguments, improve school attendance and performance as well as address substance abuse. Parents and guardians learn how to identify, prevent and intervene when destructive behavior is a concern.
Parent Tip Busts School Drug Ring
Caroline entered her son’s suburban Butler County high school armed with a drug kit, a cell phone and knowledge from Catholic Charities Parent Project. She enrolled in the parenting class to get advice on raising her teenager.
But on this stormy morning, Caroline needed to speak to his high school principal.
“I suspect my son is getting drugs at school and I think I know who he is getting the drugs from,” Caroline told the principal as she began sharing text messages from the cell phone.
Her son was in the process of earning things like his phone back as part of learning consequences and rebuilding trust with Caroline. Frustration with not having a phone prompted her son to borrow his grandmother’s phone. When the grandmother demanded the phone back, Caroline checked the phone for information like she had been instructed as part of Parent Project.
To her disappointment, Caroline found evidence of a drug deal at her son’s school.
The principal thanked Caroline for coming forward. The principal followed up quickly by calling the suspected drug dealer into her office. The unkempt student was surprised to find a police officer with the principal and a mother holding a drug kit.
“This is a student’s mother with a drug test,” the principal said. “We all know what’s going on. We want to hear from you.”
The student gave up his seller and buyers. A search of his backpack uncovered two bags of marijuana. He was arrested and charged. His partner in crime was suspended, and his parents gave the school permission to go through his cell phone.
This led to disciplinary action with other students and eventually police arrested the 26-year-old supplier. Importantly, the text messages enabled school and law enforcement officials to understand how students were being sought out for illegal drugs. The dealers enticed curious students with “edibles” like brownies laced with marijuana and offered interested students $5 joints to smoke.
Thanks to Caroline and the knowledge she gained from Parent Project, a suburban high school succeeded in shutting down an illegal drug operation.
Caring for babies exposed to opioids
Catholic Charities is responding to the opioid epidemic by partnering with Cincinnati Children’s to identify the best practices in serving infants, children and their parents.
About 1,100 newborns affected by opioids were treated by Cincinnati Children’s last year – 300 infants were treated for withdrawal and 800 tested positive for drugs.
These infants tend to be more irritable. They have difficulty eating, sleeping and being comforted.
Michelle Swartz, a Catholic Charities Early Childhood Consultant, is part of the Children of Addicted Parents collaborative coordinated by Cincinnati Children’s. It’s comprised of physicians and social service agencies to explore programs to treat these children in Butler, Warren, Clermont and Hamilton counties.
“A mother dependent on drugs is less likely to be attuned to her baby’s need. Her baby may be more irritable and difficult to comfort,” Michelle explained. “Healthy attachment needs to be formed within the first two years of life. Children are at risk of developing reactive attachment disorder if they don’t establish a healthy attachment with a parent or guardian early.”
This disorder can make it difficult for a child to form normal, loving relationships with others. Children with this disorder may have difficulty trusting others which creates issues at home and school.
So Michelle is teaching parents struggling with substance abuse how to touch their new babies with massages. Massage has been researched to be effective for the child and the parent.
The new parenting class teaches parents how to massage their baby to enhance their attachment and attunement to the infant’s needs. This reduces infant irritability and eating difficulties while increasing sleep. Massage also decreases parental stress, depression and the likelihood of using drugs again.
“We hope we may be able to make a difference,” Michelle said. “We are enhancing through touch. It’s been researched to be effective with substance abusing mothers. We hope we may be able to help some of those parents.”
The five week parenting massage class is for infants between six weeks and eight months old. It’s not just for drug exposed infants. The classes are open to any parent or primary caregiver who would like to improve their bond with their baby, Swartz said.
Catholic Charities Early Childhood Program also serves Toddlers, Preschoolers and Families affected by Opioid Epidemic.
“We see the effects in toddlers ranging from poor muscle development to sensory and cognitive development,” said Pam Mortensen, who leads Catholic Charities Early Childhood Program and other family-focused classes. “They may display explosive behavior, ADHD, vision and respiratory problems. They can be either hyperactive or hypertonic.”
Catholic Charities consultants assess children at home and child care centers. Mortensen said, “Through Early Childhood Mental Health services we can assess and support these children and their families. We also serve recovering addicts who have had babies by providing education and mental health services. We recognized the signs of drug exposure in their children.”
Catholic Charities provides services through assessment, referral, parenting classes and community advocacy. Catholic Charities is proud to be part of responding the needs of children affected by the opioid epidemic.
Excessive truancy and fighting at school led a juvenile court judge to order a Middletown girl to Catholic Charities’ Why Try program. Emma, just 14, and her mother, Jenny, entered the 10-week program that includes classes for parents, too.
Emma and Jenny often fought with each other, but the classes uncovered that both desired to repair their relationship. During the classes, Emma shared that she had been bullied in school and struggled with anxiety and depression. Her history of abuse and mental health struggles led to behavior problems.
Why Try and the Parent Project taught the daughter and mother to communicate positively and build new skills for more productive relationships. Follow up with Juvenile Court has successfully resolved the judge’s concerns and Emma’s case is now closed. She attends school regularly and no longer lashes out in anger at others. Emma finished the school year with the highest grade she had ever received in French class.
Why Try is the youth companion program for the Parent Project. It’s designed for ages 12 to 17. Catholic Charities began offering this curriculum in October 2015 through the support of the Strong Families Safe Communities grant from the Department of Ohio Mental Health and Addiction Services.
Incredible Years, Incredible Results
Samantha was valedictorian when she graduated from high school. But soon this Butler County youth with so much promise became pregnant, gave birth and fell victim to heroin.
Her mother is now raising her son, Bryan. His grandmother always wants the best for him and involves herself as his parent in any way that she can despite a physical handicap. Yet Bryan knows his mother’s sad story and started showing signs in the second grade of Reactive Attachment Disorder. This disorder may occur in children who have been unable to consistently connect with a parent or primary caregiver.
“At the beginning of the school year, Bryan could not handle any sort of disagreement at school; he would shut down and run to sit alone with his head down, without being able to communicate what had happened at all,” his teacher explained.
Then her entire class experienced Catholic Charities Incredible Years Dina School Program. The Dina program uses innovative, life-sized puppets to teach proper social and emotional skills.
“After the first 30 minute Dina School came and passed, it was as if a switch in his head turned back on to remind him of how to consciously react. He was eager to share what he had previously learned from years past with the facilitator,” his teacher said. “Bryan now looks forward to Dina School each Tuesday and is a respectful contributor. I have even caught him giving his peers friendly reminders to use their ‘ignore shield’ or ‘go to their happy place’ when they become frustrated. He realizes that there are successful ways of handling social situations and is able to listen to others and explain his reasoning without becoming angry.”
The behavior turnaround is dramatic and his teacher believes Bryan is better prepared to be a good student and life-long learner. This is the foundation for a successful life.
Incredible Years is a nationally recognized program offered by Catholic Charities in Butler County. The program focuses on children from preschool to age seven with behavioral problems as well as their parents and teachers. Incredible Years is designed to prevent and treat behavior problems in children, strengthen parenting skills and improve the relationship between parent and child. Learn more.
Learning to Manage Emotions
Five-year-old AJ’s autism led to aggressive and violent outbursts in class. He risked expulsion for hitting his teacher and other students.
Catholic Charities’ Early Childhood Mental Health consulting services intervened. A consultant trained in early childhood mental health met with the school director, teacher and AJ’s mother to assess the situation and develop an action plan.
The consultant identified a number of sensory issues that needed to be managed. Together, with the teacher, the consultant designed a behavior modification plan that the family supported. The goal was to reduce sensory issues that led to violent outbursts.
The plan was shared with AJ so he could learn how to better regulate his behavior in the classroom. His teacher, now more sensitive of potential triggers, developed de-escalation strategies. His mother reinforced good behavior with positive praise at home.
The plan is working. AJ has not had any incidents of aggression since being referred to the consultant.
Learn more about Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation, here.
Classes Provide Incredible Results
Celeste was looking for help in managing two toddler daughters, particularly when it came to tantrums.
“My four-year-old’s emotions were so extreme. I was exhausted repeating myself and hearing myself yell all day,” Celeste explained. “I was so frustrated because the things I was doing didn’t seem to be helping my daughter feel better when her feelings got out of hand.”
So Celeste enrolled in Incredible Years. Her husband, who couldn’t attend due to business travel, would review the class materials Celeste brought home. The Incredible Years principles enabled the couple to turnaround a tumultuous household into a peaceful environment.
“We have learned to cherish ‘special play time’ and include it in our daily routine. The girls have benefited immensely from the individual attention and have learned to play very well by themselves. We have instituted a daily routine, and they do great with that consistency. We have learned to watch them closely, and we pay extra attention and praise the things they do right,” Celeste explained.
Other principles applied from Incredible Years include giving children choices and teaching them about consequences so that they can be part of the discipline process. Consistency is also important.
“We have learned to stay calm and rely on each other when that becomes challenging,” Celeste added. “The once daily ‘time outs’ are now used infrequently. Most of the time my house is a calm place.
Celeste credits her Incredible Years group leaders for sharing their real-life experience and enhancing the credibility of the classroom materials. Her daughters love the “calm down tools,” reward charts and checklists provided as part of Incredible Years.
Incredible Years, a nationally recognized program, is offered by Catholic Charities across Butler County. This program targets children (preschool to seven years of age) with behavioral problems, their parents and teachers. It is designed to prevent and treat behavior problems in children and strengthen parenting skills and the parent/child relationship.
For more information about Incredible Years, visit Incredible Years.
Playtime Brings Peace
“Nuts!” is how stay-at-home mom, Elizabeth, described her household. A therapist referred her to Incredible Years parenting program due to Elizabeth’s frustrations dealing with her 6-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter.
She spent most of the day screaming at her children, particularly her son. She felt like everything was one big argument with him. Yet when her husband returned home, her children responded to his direction, which frustrated her. Elizabeth felt he didn’t understand what she was experiencing since the kids seemed to listen to him – what was HER problem, anyway?
Elizabeth craved peace in her family. She wanted her children to have memories of feeling loved by their mother and she feared that wasn’t the environment that she was providing. At the start of the Incredible Years program, she was discouraged and angry at herself for not doing better. She wore guilt like a heavy blanket.
It didn’t take long to realize that Elizabeth was taking the program seriously – practicing the strategies that support building strong parent-child relationships. So often this relationship is harmed from extensive yelling and spanking.
Parents learn that behavior will change if they use new strategies, but they must practice the strategies at home. Parents are coached over a few months since it takes time to change behavior and develop new habits. They’re encouraged to forgive themselves if they fall back into old habits and to keep moving forward.
The start of the Incredible Years program teaches a basic skill on how to “play” effectively with a child that sends a clear message that the parent is giving the child quality attention. Parents learn how to use descriptive commenting and praise for short periods of time.
Elizabeth recently reported that in a few short weeks things are very different at home. She has found that spending the “playtime” with her children has resulted in better behavior. Children often misbehave to get some attention.
She’s calmer now and has fewer challenges with her children. She shared that her kids seem happier and wear bright smiles when she plays with them. She is more likely to recognize her son’s strengths: he is a good big brother, listens to his teacher, and plays nicely with his friends.
Learn how Incredible Years can benefit your children.
Learning to be Good Parents
All Jason and Nicky wanted were to be better parents for their one-year-old son. They knew they were inexperienced. Their families told them
So, they enrolled in Parenting Education Classes to gain parenting skills. Pre-tests scored both parents low in knowledge of discipline alternatives and appropriate expectations for children.
Classroom instruction on child development was eye opening for both.
Take their son’s behavior for example. He’d throw and dump toys. Initially, Jason would become frustrated because his son was making a mess. But when he learned that this was age-appropriate behavior, Jason relaxed and created opportunities for his son to master throwing and dumping skills without the fear of having his hand smacked.
Nicky shared she was struggling with stress and had previously been diagnosed with social anxiety, which she was not being treated. When she discussed her family history with the instructor, it became apparent that additional mental health services would benefit the health of her family and enable Nicky to reach her full potential as a woman and mother. Each week the instructor would encourage Nicky to connect with the intake worker and coached her on strategies to overcome her anxiety using the phone to make the initial call.
By the end of the course both parents scored much better on the Knowledge of Discipline Alternatives post-test, 100% and 97%, showing significant growth in their understanding of the importance of positive child guidance versus hitting and yelling. Nicky also made a big breakthrough by completing her assessment for mental health services and beginning counseling to deal with unresolved issues.
Together, they took a positive step to becoming positive parents.
Catholic Charities offers an eight-week course designed to assist at-risk, low-income parents increase their knowledge of child development, develop appropriate discipline skills, and otherwise improve the relationship with their children. Parents can join at any time. There is no fee for Butler County residents and a modest fee for non-residents, $60/individual; $80/couple.
Protecting Children Through Incredible Years
Imagine your first-grader being sent home from school – suspended for bad behavior. It happens.
You want your child to be successful, but when their behavior stands in the way of them learning to read, what do you do? Call Pam Mortensen at Incredible Years.
“One dad was adamant. He was spanked as a child and grew up to be successful. So, if spanking worked for him, he didn’t understand why it wasn’t working for his son,” Pam explains. The father, Steve, was at a loss for why is 5-year-old Bryan was struggling to get along with other students. Bryan was failing kindergarten.
Incredible Years is a 14-week class for families. It teaches children calming skills and how to recognize their feelings. These skills are crucial because children who misbehave – or act out – are at a higher risk of abuse. Parents learn skills such as praise strategies to encourage more positive behavior from their children. So, if you don’t want your child to yell, praise them when they’re speaking with their inside voice.
“We want to promote loving our most precious resource in our society, our children. We know these parents love their children, and we know parenting is hard,” Pam says. “Sometimes the relationship between the parent and the child has been harmed. Sometimes the parents come in crying. They’re so frustrated. They don’t know what to do. They’re angry at their kids. They’re embarrassed. They don’t realize their child is just reacting to their environment.”
Now Steve is a believer. Incredible Years has given him and his wife new, practical strategies for managing their son’s behavior. Bryan is now in the first grade and getting along with his classmates.
To learn more about Incredible Years, call Pam at 513-867-7063.
Turning a Two-Year-Old Around
Ethan was biting other kids and had been booted out of day care. His mother was told the only way the two-and-half year old could return was to get Catholic Charities Southwestern Ohio involved.
Catholic Charities served more than 1,000 children like Ethan last year through Early Childhood Mental Health Services. Consultants go into day care centers, assess the classrooms, interview the teachers and parents, and observe the child and classmates. Then they design an intervention plan.
“Our main goal is to develop the child’s social and behavioral skills,” Pam Mortensen, director of community outreach in Butler County, says. “These are foundational skills that are critical to the child’s long-term success.
Ethan had problems engaging with other children. He wanted to play with them but he was aggressive. The other children would shy away out of fear of being hit or bitten.
His consultant partnered with his teacher to provide incentives such as sticker charts for every time Ethan was “caught being good.” His teacher would reward him with a sticker to focus Ethan on doing the right thing. The consultant recommended teaching leadership skills, too. Even at a young age children can be given responsibilities like pouring milk for others and leading the line. Quickly, Ethan has become a model student.
Sometimes the interventions can be physical changes to the classroom to minimize over-stimulating the child or creating visual clues for children who may struggle with verbal commands. Some action plans include skill building exercises for teachers and parents or referrals to doctors.
“Social and emotional development is tied to long-term mental health, so this is preventative treatment,” Pam says. “We see anxiety early. Children are experiencing stress and their brains are trying to cope. They’re acting it out and harming others.”
This program serves children under the age of six from high risk families in Butler County.
Families Don’t Come With Instructions
Some parents are urged by friends or relatives to contact Catholic Charities for parenting and family services. Others see our limited advertising or learn about our services at their parish. And some, like Molly, are referred by a court.
Molly, who is about 40 years old, is in recovery from substance abuse. That substance abuse cost her job, her home and ultimately her three children. Clean and sober for almost a year, she petitioned the court to return custody of her kids and allow them to live with her in her new apartment. Before considering that request, the judge instructed her be evaluated by one of our counselors.
Molly took a series of tests that measure an adult’s use of empathy and understanding to determine their capacity for building a nurturing environment. She also was evaluated for her attitudes toward discipline and punishment – and ability to distinguish the two. Finally, a counselor probed her ability to manage frustration and manage anger in emotional situations.
Molly did not do well. Having been raised in a troubled home, she understood all of the rules for adapting and blending into society, but when it came to family life, she lacked a positive model. She was at a high risk to be an abusive parent and custody could not be recommended.
Our team enrolled her in a parenting program, one of the few in the region that prepares at-risk families for the real-life stresses and challenges of raising children. Through several weeks of coaching and role playing, Molly learned the skills her own family never taught her. Because the advice and the education she received, Molly quickly made progress and now demonstrates the coping and management skills of a parent at a very low risk of abuse.
She still has a ways to go. She was awarded temporary custody of her children in the fall and is still being supervised. But her family is together and the children are thriving. With the support of a caring community, they will continue to write their own happy ending.
Teaching Parents How to Be Parents
One of the primary goals of the parenting education classes is to strengthen families and in the case of Justin and Tina participation in the classes directly impacted reunifying their broken family.Justin and Tina lost custody of their children when their substance abuse led them into a neglectful lifestyle. The couple was directed to complete parenting classes with Catholic Charities as one of the many requirements for their children to return home. Justin and Tina wanted their children home desperately since the children, ages 2 and 3 years, were scared and confused being also separated from one another living with different relatives.
Catholic Charities has a strong belief that these vulnerable parents have great love for their children yet need growth in some areas of their life in order to be better parents – our task is to assist them in being successful if at all possible. Our instructor embraced this couple with encouragement and love providing them with a nurturing learning environment; something they were not used to after hearing the message from so many others that they were “bad” parents.
The couple was motivated to complete the requirements of the court and began coming consistently to each class participating actively to learn new skills. Justin stated that since taking the parenting classes he was more aware of how to use positive discipline strategies with the children rather than using anger. He recognized that he was using intimidation and bullying to get his children to comply. He shared that he found that by simply telling his kids what “to do” rather than what “not to do” was making a dramatic difference in the children’s responses. As a result of successful participation in the class the couple’s visitation with their children was increased and they were eventually granted overnight visits as they continued to make progress.
Justin and Tina staying the course and surprised the class by bringing their children to the final parenting class having reunified with the children effective that very afternoon. Catholic Charities played a part in this couple’s success being a family strengthened and united.
Talking to the Puppets
Catholic Charities utilizes a unique and effective way to get kids to share their experiences—puppets.
The agency has an abundance of culturally and ethnically diverse puppets that are used by trained facilitators to help over 500 children each year throughout Butler County. The puppets model critical social skills that will help the children be more successful in life.
The puppets are an essential part of The Incredible Years Dina Dinosaur school success curriculum, which teaches children friendship skills, appropriate conflict management strategies, successful classroom behaviors, and empathy skills. Children particularly connect with the child-size boy, Wally, and his sister, Molly, who are used to model appropriate behavior and often ask the children for help with common problem situations they encounter. Children also respond to the dinosaur puppet, Dina, who is the director of Dinosaur School that teaches school rules and rewards and praises children for doing well.
Young children are enthralled with the puppets and often will talk about sensitive or painful issues with Wally or Dina the Dinosaur more easily than with adults.
These puppets do wonders in helping these children acquire important social skills that are the foundation for long-term success in school and life.