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Sanford center's teen focus 'fills the gap'

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Posted: Thursday, March 14, 2013 11:40 am | Updated: 11:46 am, Thu Mar 14, 2013.

SANFORD – The Parent Resource Center in Springvale has been providing support for local parents and families for 25 years. Now, it’s expanding its reach in the community.

Two new initiatives are being launched that focus on teenagers.

According to Pamela Belisle, executive director since 2003, the center will begin offering a six-hour babysitter training course, known as Safe Sitter. The center will also put a focus on parents of teenagers in a continuation of its Practical Parenting series.

Belisle said the teen programming is the first time the center has focused on specific community members. Both new programs came as the result of a goal for 2013 to reach out to the age group and their parents.

“We received feedback from board members and clients who said parents of teenagers and teenagers themselves were an area that could use some more support,” she said. “We felt it was time to fill some of that gap.”

The Safe Sitter course will begin April 13 at the center’s Biddeford classroom at the Canopy Park Resource Center, but will also be offered in Springvale, at the Anderson Learning Center, in the coming months. All classes, offered for boys and girls ages 11-18, will be held on Saturdays from 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Belisle says the program is something she has been looking into bringing to the center for quite some time.

“It’s been about three years that we’ve been talking about some type of babysitting course,” she said. “And we found Safe Sitter to be the right fit for us.”

Belisle said the Sanford-Springvale YMCA also provides the classes, but just once a year. She said she thought there was a need for it to be offered more frequently and at more locations.

She said the Safe Sitter organization’s mission statement is similar to that of the resource center, and due to its low cost barrier, was a win-win for them. Safe Sitter requires a one-time fee of $375 to become a Safe Sitter teaching site. Handbooks are an additional $17.50 each, with the only additional costs coming for products such as sample toys, bottles, dolls and telephones.

Safe Sitter offers two levels of training, with the Parent Resource Center planning to offer the first level – the essential curriculum taught in a single, six-hour class. Level 2 includes the essential curriculum, as well as CPR training.

“Our agency chose to not take the responsibility of teaching CPR. We are going with the one-day program, which includes choking prevention,” Belisle said.

According to the Safe Sitter website, the curriculum includes how to care for a choking child, injury prevention and management, behavior management and also babysitting as a business.

“Students learn how to screen jobs for safety, how to judge their own babysitting abilities, and what information to get from their employers,” it says on the website.

Belisle says some of the program’s goals are to show pre-teens and teens the responsibilities of parenting.

“What is safe for a 3-year-old to play with versus what a 1-year-old baby can have,” she said.

The course also tries to instill safety tips for not only the child being looked after, but also the babysitter.

“The Safe Sitter approach is to instill confidence in each of these areas,” Belisle said.

In order to become a Safe Sitter-certified instructor, Belisle and co-worker Ricki Stevens completed on-site DVD video training that is offered through Safe Sitter. A series of videos followed by tests allow for the certification.

Safe Sitter was founded in 1980 by Indianapolis pediatrician Patricia Keener after she was called to the emergency room to care for an 18-month-old girl who had choked.

“Despite Dr. Keener’s best efforts, the little girl died,” the website says. “If the adult sitter had known how to rescue a choking child, the story would have been very different. The tragedy inspired Dr. Keener to create Safe Sitter.”

Belisle’s work is also fueled by tragedy. In 1998, her 4½-month-old son Jake died after being shaken by a babysitter. Her loss has inspired her years of passionate work and the founding of the “Don’t Shake Jake” program, which draws awareness to the issue.

The Parent Resource Center’s Practical Parenting series will begin April 2 in Springvale, and will focus on the role of parents of teenagers and their responsibilities. The five-week course is held on Tuesdays from 6:30-9 p.m. and costs $125 per parent.

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