Young mothers get help with First Steps

By Laura McMillan

Clayton County organizations are banning together to provide as much support as possible to any mother of a newborn. One such agency spearheading the education of high risk mothers from the time of their child's birth is Southern Regional Medical Center's First Steps Program.

Mothers delivering at the hospital are eligible for a friendly educational visit from a First Steps volunteer trained by program coordinator, Michelle Dalton. Prevent Child Abuse Georgia's state-wide First Steps Program offers an initial face-to-face visit between trained service providers and new parents and an "Our Babies First Year Calendar" featuring growth developmental milestones.

"Child abuse and prevention provides support and information to new parents giving birth," said Kim Siebert of the Clayton County Extension Services, an agency collaborating with Southern Regional to assist in community outreach.

According to Siebert, volunteers check in with mothers in the medical center to see that "basic needs" are met. "If it's a teen mom," Siebert offered as an example, "they check to see that there is someone at home who can help."

Teen mothers whose needs are not met may be referred to another organization as soon as possible after the baby's birth. "We only take teen mothers from 13 to 19. We're the first second chance home in Clayton County," said Dawn Murray, the founder of House of Dawn.

That particular establishment currently houses only one private placement case due to budget issues. All other cases with which House of Dawn are involved are handled directly through the Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS).

New mothers may be referred to Extension Service classes by almost all assisting organizations because one goal of House of Dawn, much like that of First Steps, is to educate mothers. "We teach a class on discipline," said Murray, who is also a Parent Educator with Clayton County Extension Services. She mentioned that they teach "other ways besides corporal punishment."

Murray knows that the lessons learned in this specific class may be important in avoiding child abuse cases because she said of the teen mothers' situations, "It's definitely high risk."

The Calvary Refuge Center uses a full-time licensed social worker, parenting classes and mentors to accomplish the same goal of education for mothers over the age of 19. The 24-month transition program offered at the center requires the parent to be a full-time student, have a full-time job, or a combination of the two according to Tawana Tarno of the Calvary Refuge Center.

"They have to be declared homeless," said Tarno of the requirements for admittance. The same is the case for House of Dawn. First Steps at Southern Regional, however, wants to provide more general and immediate support to as many mothers as possible, which is why they work with DFCS in order to solve a broad range of parental issues when necessary.

"This half time effort is just a drop in the bucket compared to what it could be. We'd love to get further because everybody can use support," Siebert said of the current First Steps Program. She added, "Even if you are a nurse or a teacher, you may not have experience with babies."

Due to funding cut at Southern Regional Medical Center, providing every mother with a volunteer in the First Steps Program is not possible. Prioritization of high-risk mothers is still taking place at the hospital, but Siebert said, "The hospital is great. They're still providing space, and supplies, and on-site supervision. They are just not prepared to support the program financially."

The First Steps Program, the House of Dawn, the Cavalry Refuge Center, Clayton County Extension Services and DFCS share a common goal of education and support of mothers in the Clayton County community. "They're just like the other agencies," Dawn Murray said of the First Steps Program. "We're just one big collaboration."