Stay at Home Parents in St. LouisIn the City of St. Louis: Countless numbers of stories concerning child abuse can be read in newspapers across the country each day, and it seems at times that St. Louis is no exception. New Hope Community Center Executive Director Melisa Mershon not only has heard about some of these stories, but also has dealt with them in a personal matter.

Child abuse is a sensitive topic for someone who designates their life towards helping children, and Mershon prefers not to discuss openly incidents she has heard about. Rather, through ARCHS’ Stay At Home Parent (SAHP) partnership, Mershon is out to help St. Louis inner-city parents who have been identified by the state of Missouri as “at-risk” better learn the needs of their own children.

“The Stay At Home Parent partnership helps prevent child abuse and neglect. It allows us to get in the home and help identify potential issues,” Mershon said. “Once we establish reprieve with the families, we can reveal social services needs the families may have such as financial problems, developmental issues, substance abuse problems or mental abuse.”

SAHP is a partnership between ARCHS and the Missouri Department of Social Services, which is aimed to prevent child abuse and neglect for high at-risk families who experience certain stressors like poverty and teen pregnancy. A parent educator from New Hope Community Center or the Jennings School District visits enrolled families once a month to work with parents one-on-one to make certain children are properly developing mentally and physically.

ARCHS contracts with both New Hope Community Center and the Jennings School District to provide services to 70 families in the area through SAHP.

“Key things that I like to stress are attachment and bonding, safety of home and community resources available like Crisis Nursery,” Mershon said. “We usually establish reprieve with the families in the first three months by being discreet, confidential and consistent. When we say we are going to show up then we need to make sure we are there for them, and when we offer something as incentive then we need to deliver.”

Such is the case for St. Louis resident Codiebra Burns, who has been receiving aid from New Hope through SAHP since August of 2009. By having a parent educator visit her home once a month, trust was established, and further benefited her two-year-old child Phillip.

“Through the home visits, it’s taught me some things, such as what to read to him and what activities to do with him that are age appropriate,” Burns said. “Stay At Home has taught me how to read books with him in an interactive way to help him learn the words. Now, his speech development has better improved, which is good because I want Phillip to be a productive and intelligent boy.”

A variety of activities are taught and implemented within the families to help with the children’s development. Also, books are distributed to promote literacy.

“Many of these parents are so inspired by their success in the Stay at Home Parent partnership that they become mentors to other parents within the program and their community. The children involved in the partnership become eager learners, far out-pacing their parent’s expectations,” said Toni Sutherlands, of the Missouri Department of Social Services. “With this dual success, comes lower incidence of child abuse and neglect among this group.”