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New program gives parents a step up with new skills

Based on the successful Harlem Children's Zone, CAN Council's Great Start University teaches parents effective techniques to deal with children. The program expects to serve about 250 Saginaw County parents in 2012.
During the adventure of parenthood, families face predictable struggles with their children--from acting up in public to establishing routines to getting along with siblings.  

To help parents and caretakers of children in the community, CAN Council Great Lakes Bay Region offers its Great Start University program. Great Start University was started in 2010 as a pilot project modeled after the Harlem Children's Zone, a project called "one of the most ambitious social-service experiments of our time," by The New York Times.

"The goal of the CAN Council is to build a community where children are free from abuse and neglect, and part of that is to educate the community," says the program's education director, Vera Harrison. "That's what we do with Great Start University."

CAN Council offers two sets of parenting classes through Great Start University, which is currently hosted at seven sites in Saginaw County.

"We have Parenting Wisely, which is a 10-week evidence-based program, but we also have Incredible Years, which is a 20-week evidence-based program," Harrison says. "Sometimes they may need the more intensive program."

The program, which is free to the community, is supported by grants. The Saginaw Community Foundation recently granted $10,000 to the program. PNC Bank is funding all of the program's Head Start sites.

Their goal is to ultimately lower child abuse rates through the program. Child abuse has been listed as one of Saginaw County's top health concerns by the Department of Public Health's Community Health Assessment. There were 1,195 confirmed victims of abuse in Saginaw County in 2009, according to KIDS COUNT Data Center.

"Education is the key," Harrison says. "In order to prevent abuse, you need to know right from wrong. And, a lot of our parents didn't. We educate our parents on different techniques to deal with children."

Children today are a little bit different than they were 25 years ago, Harrison says. They're more likely to want an explanation on why they should do something and spend more time inside playing on computers or video games. Great Start University teaches parents about child-directed play, as well as different techniques to build a great relationship with a child so the parents don't have to use as much discipline.

"It's important because we didn't have parenting programs," she says. "For so long, parents have called and sought out parenting education and there was no place to send them. There was a need for it."

The program is expected to serve approximately 250 parents in 2012.

"We had a 97 percent retention rate in our first year," she says. "We had 236 parents start and we had 226 complete. We had some dedicated parents. I have a lot of parents talk about their success. One of the fathers said, 'This stuff really works.' A lot of parents come in and tell us what works. And, on the same note, we have stuff that doesn't work. Everything won't work for every child."
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