MONTROSE – Montrose County has been shocked by the recent deaths of two small children. A 14-month-old girl died of homicide, from blunt force trauma, on Sept. 1. Less than a month later, on Oct. 9, a 4-month-old baby boy’s death was considered “suspicious,” although autopsy results are not yet in.
These deaths are disturbing to everyone, said Peg Mewes, director of Montrose County Health and Human Services, but the county has programs available to the public that can help promote healthy parenting and lower the risk of violence toward children, and she’d like to see more people use them.
Children don’t come with instruction manuals, but parents can learn productive ways to raise their children that will help ensure not only their own health and happiness, but also that of the family.
Through the county’s Community Support Program, parents can take Nurturing Parenting classes, a 26-week evening course where children come with the parents but play in another room while the parents learn good parenting skills. Then parents and kids come together for a meal and get to practice some of the things they’ve learned, said Karen Connor, Montrose County Health Educator.
“It may be about how to set limits with your child in an appropriate way, how to redirect anger or how to give choices to your child,” she said. “Instead of telling them what to do, giving them a choice works better.”
Anyone in the community can take the classes she said, which are offered in the evenings at various times of the year, often in connection with Hilltop, a community-based nonprofit that offers programs for children and adults.
Another community program is the Toddler Group, where parents and toddlers spend an hour just being together, learning to interact with each other and other children, under a group leader.
Community Support’s Toy Lending Library allows parents to check out age-appropriate games that foster positive parent-child interactions.
Two other Community Support programs, the Nurse Family Partnership and Healthy Steps, are nurse home- visitation programs that follow mother and baby through the first five years of the child’s life and offer assistance and support to parents.
The county also hosts Empowering Dads, which promotes responsible fatherhood through individual coaching, teaching parenting skills, and developing relationships between dads and their families.
Good parenting starts in infancy, and all the Community Support programs stress the importance of early and sustained parental bonding for healthy development of not only social skills but mental development, Connor said.
“All of these programs work with parents on infant care, child growth and development, strategies that promote bonding and attachment such as breastfeeding, rocking, using a baby carrier, responding to crying, talking lovingly, reading and play activities, constancy within and across caregivers, and stability of primary caregivers,” Connor said.
Parents who bond with their babies and young children lay the foundation for a positive and loving relationship, Mewes said, as well as stimulate their mental development.
Through the Teen Companion program, adult mentors work with kids enrolled in school to increase self-esteem, with the primary goal of preventing teen pregnancy.
The county also makes referrals and works in coordination with other agencies to provide services to families, said Carol Friedrich, division director for Montrose County Health and Human Services, including local churches, Christ’s Kitchen, the local food bank, the Montrose School district, Tri-County Resources, Dolphin House, Court Appointed Special Advocates, the Center for Mental Health and more.
To learn more about free parenting and family programs offered by Montrose County, call Health and Human Services at 252-2000.