Agency expanding to provide more families with support in Sarasota County
Parenting can be a joy, but it can also be a struggle. For some families, that struggle is even tougher.
To boost support for these parents, Parenting Matters has hired three new parenting educators to address what it sees as the greatest gap in parenting services in Sarasota County — intensive home visits for high-risk families.
“I think for a lot of people, there’s a stigma around parenting. They feel like if they have to ask for help, there’s something wrong,” said Katrina Bellemare, executive director of Parenting Matters. “But we find that we have never met a parent that didn’t love their children, want what was best for them … we’re just a resource to help support them to be who they want to be.”
The nonprofit, which works heavily in Manatee County, received $240,000 in grant funding from the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation to expand in Sarasota County. It has worked in Sarasota County since 2006, but due to a shift in funding over the past few years, was only able to help a handful of families in the county.
Parenting educators go into a family’s home and identify their needs, which could be things like bedtime routines or potty training. But in some cases, parents need help with more serious issues like kids with mental health problems or behavioral issues.
One Parenting Matters client, China Hall, was referred to the organization by the Safe Children’s Coalition in Manatee County. She was struggling with her adopted child, who was having issues at home and in school.
“At the beginning, (Parenting Matters) talked about having an educational advocate, and that they offered that service, and we didn’t really think we needed that,” Hall said. “But as we began with the program, we realized that the educational advocacy part of the program was great, it was huge for us.”
She said that the program not only helped her with her adopted child who struggles with mental health issues and past traumas but also with her biological children.
“A lot of his improvement has come from getting proper mental health care, but I would say the biggest improvement was probably the overall functioning of our family when things are dysfunctional,” Hall said.
Typically, a parenting educator will come into a home, observe the family, and then talk with the parent to identify the family’s needs, including issues like child safety, communication, positive discipline, child development, access to community resources and becoming involved in and advocating for their child’s education.
The employee will spend at least an hour in the home every week and continue the service for at least 24 weeks. At that point, parents can decide if they want to reduce the frequency of the visits, but many continue on the same schedule. Last year the organization served over 700 parents and 1,354 children in the region.
“When a child is healthy, happy and supported by their parents, it impacts every aspect of their life,” said Katrina Bellemare, executive director of Parenting Matters. “Research shows that empowering families with the necessary knowledge and skills will lead them to live healthy and productive lives.”
This story comes from Aspirations Journalism, an initiative of The Patterson Foundation and Sarasota Herald-Tribune to inform, inspire, and engage the community to take action on issues related to Age-Friendly Sarasota, Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, National Council on Aging and the Suncoast Nursing Action Coalition.