By Eileen Connelly, OSU
Parenting is hard even in the most stable and loving families. Sometimes personal issues and external forces make it even more challenging. That’s why Catholic Charities Southwestern Ohio Family Development Services is there to help by facilitating the Parent Project. The Parent Project uses evidence-informed social-emotional learning strategies to address behavioral and mental health issues in children and teens and provides strategies for parents to foster positive connections with them.
The Parent Project is the largest juvenile intervention program in the United States and is proven to reduce juvenile crime and increase both school attendance and performance among adolescents. Catholic Charities provides the Parent Project, Loving Solutions, and WhyTry programs at three communities in Butler County. Loving Solutions is geared toward the needs of children ages 5 to 11, explained Patsy Bolden, Parent Project Coordinator, while WhyTry focuses on those ages 11 to 17, with the goal of decreasing rule-breaking behaviors and expulsion, along with improving mental health and overall academic behavior.
Over 10 weeks, parents learn to address destructive behaviors and provide emotional and practical support for their children, Bolden noted, saying, “A child doesn’t have to be in trouble to take our classes, but the court system does take advantage of them. Sometimes, up to one-fourth of the class will be court-ordered. It makes for an interesting mix.”
The WhyTry program uses a series of 10 visual metaphors to teach social, emotional, and leadership principles and runs at the same time as parenting classes. Teens must have a parent in the parenting class to be able to attend. Bolden emphasized that “we don’t point fingers in the parenting classes and say ‘you’re a terrible parent.’ It’s all about being there to support the parents. Sometimes they just need to tweak a few things. They may not realize that they’re not showing the love to their children that they thought they were. They need to know that they’re not alone in this.”
By the end of the classes, Borden said, “It’s amazing to see how the group has come together and the transformations that have taken place. I’ve yet to have a class where the majority of the families don’t walk away feeling that their lives have been changed. The parents stay in touch online after the classes end and continue to support one another.”
Borden, whose role is to facilitate the classes, said “It’s in my heart to help people,” and shared a couple of the many success stories that make her ministry so rewarding.
She recalled one family whose teen had been skipping school, doing drugs, and running away from home. Court-ordered, the family, comprised of the mother, step-father, and two sons, ages 14 and 11, came to classes, albeit reluctantly at first. “The step-father was particularly contentious, and the facilitator was ready to throw the family out,” Borden said. “Over time, you could really see the change in the family, and the step-father changed his tune and started to listen, support his wife, and stopped being so critical. The boy stopped running away, and six months after the class ended, he had no further charges against him.”
Among the success stories from Loving Solutions, Bolden cited the example of a single mom whose five-year-old son was hitting her, and his behavior was such a concern she couldn’t take him anywhere. “She came to the class to fine-tune her parenting skills,” Bolden said. “By the third or fourth week of class, she was already seeing a change in her son, and when she took him out in public, people commented on how well-behaved he was. She came to understand that consistency is the key, how important it is to stick with what she said and to have a set schedule for her son.”
Bolden noted that such success stories wouldn’t be possible without the generosity of Catholic Ministries Appeal donors. “About three-fourths of our families couldn’t afford the class and we wouldn’t be able to reach them if it wasn’t for the donations,” she said. “We’re very grateful for the support!”