Abuse prevention center launches parenting class


If nothing else, they completed their six-week training session feeling stronger, more confident and determined to go the distance.

No, they're not athletes. They are the graduates of the first six-week Positive Parenting class sponsored by the Child Abuse Prevention Center's Harford County office.

Four months after its opening, the Harford center, a satellite of the Child Abuse Prevention Center of Maryland, is celebrating April as Child Abuse Prevention Month with a graduating class of 15 and a nearly full list of parents eager to start the next six-week course Thursday.

"It's made me feel better just knowing I'm not alone," said Dawn Wujek, a Bel Air mother of two pre-schoolers who is expecting her third child in September.

"I was beginning to think there was something wrong with me, or something wrong with him," she said of her headstrong 5-year-old son, who constantly tests her authority.

Her comments echoed those of others who likened the parenting class to a support group.

"I think if you walk out of here with just one idea that works, you're a better parent," said her friend Claudia Werth, who has a daughter, 9, and son, 5.

That's the point of the class, said Ann Eikenberg, one of the two volunteers who lead the parent group: "These are basic parenting skills. You don't have to be in a jeopardy situation to learn something."

The Child Abuse Prevention Center of Maryland -- a private, nonprofit organization that helps families build safe, nonviolent home environments -- opened its Harford County office in Bel Air Dec. 8.

The first satellite office established by the 11-year-old Baltimore-based group, it is supported by a $10,000 grant from Harford County. The center is also sponsored by the Harford County Children's Council and the Exchange Club of Harford County.

The center operates out of a small office on Courtland Street with a part-time administrator. But the bulk of its work is outreach that is conducted by volunteers, trained and supervised by the Maryland center's clinical staff.

Besides the positive parenting class, which accommodates 20 students and is held at Facets' offices in Belcamp, the center operates a "lay therapy" program, in which volunteers work with individual Harford families that have been referred from the courts, social service agencies, churches, schools or clinics.

Today five Harford families are taking part in that program, in which a parent aide spends six to eight hours a week in the family's home -- observing, suggesting disciplinary changes and offering moral support.

It's an intensive, yearlong effort aimed at breaking the cycle of violence in the home.

The Positive Parenting classes are aimed at prevention rather than intervention, says Diane Ferguson, Harford's clinical supervisor. They eventually will include parents referred by social service agencies.

But the first class, which was advertised for its free tuition and child care -- the children play in another room with a trained volunteer -- attracted a host of people thirsting for tips on parenting.

The 13 women and two men who enrolled couldn't get enough suggestions -- about communication, about changing negative behavior, about developmental stages, about relieving stress. Most were parents of children under 7.

"They want specifics, as much as you can give them," said Ms. Eikenberg.

The former director of the Ronald McDonald House in Baltimore and the parent of a 6-year-old, she shares "parent educator" duties with volunteer Patricia Hunter. Ms. Hunter, a counselor and case manager with Harford County's Department of Social Services, is also a mother.

The two volunteers completed an intensive training course at CAPC of Maryland. They also use a manual prepared by the center as a guide.

But it's only a guide, they say, and the questions of the parents often define the class content.

"Discipline is probably their biggest concern," says Ms. Eikenberg. "Along with that, we try to weave in the importance of self-esteem, of looking at things from the child's perspective."

"But the underlying theme is the same," she said. "We stress nonphysical punishment, nonviolent discipline."

"Child abuse crosses all social lines," she said. "If your child kicks you, your normal response is to want to kick him back. So we talk about frustration. Even if you work hard at parenting, there are times when you are going to lose your cool."

Jennifer Bailey,17, of Fallston knows the feeling. The mother of a 9-month-old son, she was the youngest student in the class.

She's working on her GED while holding down a full-time job to help support the household she shares with her mother and 3-year-old sister. Stress is a frequent visitor.

"I used to have a bad temper. My sister would make a mess, and I'd blow up, but I've learned there's always a reason a child misbehaves, so now I try to figure out what's wrong first."

She says that little things, such as taking time out for herself, listening more, and encouraging her sister have reaped big rewards in building her sister's self-esteem and in building her own confidence in raising her son.

Tony Battista, one of two fathers who graduated from the first parenting class, agreed:

"The neatest part is that you come here thinking you're going to change your kids, when in fact they're fine; it's us parents that have to change," he said.


A benefit dinner for the Child Abuse Prevention Center of Maryland's Harford County programs will be held at 6 p.m. April 27 at the Maryland Golf and Country Club in Bel Air. Tickets are $50.

Naomi Haines Griffith, executive director of the national advocacy group Parents & Children Together, will speak on "Changing the World One Child at a Time."

CAPC's Harford center is supported by a $10,000 grant from Harford County, which was matched last year by corporate donations. The Exchange Club of Harford County, which sponsors the center along with the Harford County Children's Council, hopes to raise $7,500 from the dinner toward matching a county grant in fiscal 1995.

The event is being underwritten by Ferris Baker Watts Inc. of Bel Air.

For tickets, call 879-7331.

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