Parenting education benefits residents, by George Sedlacek

Over the years, the Marquette County Health Department has been recognized for many innovative prevention programs by state and national health groups. One program that doesn’t garner headlines, but is critical for the health of our most vulnerable population—our children, is the Family Health Education program. This program, which had its beginnings in the late 1980s, is designed to prevent child neglect and abuse.
The National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS) reported an estimated 1,530 child fatalities in 2006. This translates to a rate of 2.04 children per 100,000 children in the general population. In 2006, Marquette County had 133 confirmed cases of child abuse or neglect. Fifty-one children were placed in out-of-home care (foster care) as a result. The Family Health Education program works with many of these families to reduce out-of-home placement, as well as to protect the health of children.
The program provides in-home parent education. Education is provided to parents who need assistance to insure their children are not neglected or abused. This project is conducted under a subcontract with the Department of Human Services and the Marquette Alger Regional Education Services Agency.
Family Health Educators provide parenting services to clients referred into the program by DHS. Educators provide a series of structured and goal-oriented sessions in the client’s home.
They also tailor the training to the needs of the family. The topics include money management, stress management, time management, nutrition, parenting skills, social/recreation activities, personal hygiene, health, study techniques, homemaking, housing issues and discipline. The program is contracted to serve eighty families and provide 2,500 hours of service per year.
Richard F. Miketinac, director of Marquette DHS said the FHE program provides critically important services to families that have experienced child abuse or neglect.
“Research and our own experiences have shown that the best services for families are those that are family-focused, home-based and meet the specific needs of each individual family,” Miketinac said. “The FHE program provides just such a service and has been used to assist hundreds of Marquette County families improve family functioning over the years.”
MCHD FHE coordinator Betsy Little said the goal the department set is to have at least ninety percent of children remain in the home with their parents.
“Our premise is the vast majority of parents want to provide a good home for their children,” she said. “Sometimes, they either do not know how to parent correctly or they are unable to deal with stressful situations. Many of our clients are below the poverty level, which compounds stress. But, there are cases in which we are able to document that no matter how much education we provide, it’s clear that the children must be removed for the safety of the child.”
Little said they meet with parent(s) to prioritize learning needs. Most often, the goals identified have to do with learning discipline strategies to use with children in the home. Of utmost importance is keeping the children in the family safe. Information about agency and community resources is shared with the family. FHE services can take as little as several sessions or last as long as a year.
One of Little’s first cases several years ago involved a sixteen-year-old teen mother and her two-year-old son. She was from another state and found herself in the U.P. after following her son’s father to Marquette County. She was a victim of domestic violence, and she ended up in foster care, along with her two-year-old son. Through a referral with DHS, Little worked with her on learning about community services available to her.
“We covered basic toddler skills and enrolled her son in the Early On Playgroup at MARESA, where he was also tested by a speech therapist,” Little said. “We utilized the services of MSU Extension’s Nutrition classes, and the WIC Nutrition Program through the Health Department. I arranged for her to complete her GED testing and she received her certificate; we got her a driver’s test and a valid Michigan License. She and her son received dental and medical care.”
Little even rode the Marq-Tran van together with the mom so she would know how to use it. Eventually, they were able to move out of foster care, and she still has a job and her own home.
“I run into her and her son every now and then and to this day, they are doing well,” Little said.
Another case involved Becca Maino, a Family Health Educator, and a couple with one child. Initially, services were concentrated on the mother of the child because of the mother’s addiction issues. However, when a relapse occurred, services were redirected to the father of the child.
Maino worked with the father on discipline issues, child development and childproofing the home. In addition, the parent learned how to balance housework, cook meals, interact with his child and work part-time. The child was enrolled in Early Head Start and Early On, both early child education programs.
Maino is pleased to report the father completed the FHE services and, along with the support of his extended family, he has been able to function successfully as a single parent.
Miketinac said the Marquette County DHS is pleased to help sponsor this important service for Marquette County families through this collaboration with the health department.
“The program isn’t easy for parents, many of whom had poor role models themselves,” Little said. “It is very gratifying when we conclude services successfully and have happy, healthy children who now have a great chance to grow up and be great parents themselves.”
For more information on the Family Health Education program or other services at the Marquette County Health Department, visit www.mqthealth.org
—George Sedlacek

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