By Tamera Manzanares
Bonnie Espinoza has worked with youth nearly her entire life. In Steamboat Springs, she was program director at the Boys and Girls Club and worked as a school health aide. Prior to that, she was as a teacher and school administrator for 27 years. “All that experience just helps me relate to families and feel comfortable working with diverse populations,” she said. “Establishing rapport is easy for me.”
This is important in Espinoza’s new role as a parent support provider with SafeCare Colorado, a free program for families with young children. The voluntary program, available through Northwest Colorado Health, is for families who need extra support building healthy and safe futures for their children. Parent support providers visit parents or caregivers weekly to build their knowledge of home safety, child health and parent-child interactions. They assess parents’ progress in each session before moving on to the next. It takes about four to six months for families to master the entire program.
Many of Espinoza’s clients are new or single parents. They are so consumed with addressing their children’s basic needs that the prospect of childproofing their home, managing illness or making sure their child reaches key development milestones, can be overwhelming. An understanding ear and structured guidance can make a big difference for parents and caregivers in these situations, Espinoza said.
SafeCare Colorado began as a pilot program in 2013 to help prevent child neglect and abuse. An evaluation in 2016 found that families who completed SafeCare were significantly less likely to have an open child welfare case six months after completion when compared to similar Colorado families. Twenty-five families in Routt and Moffat counties have completed the SafeCare program since Northwest Colorado Health started it about a year ago. Parent Support Providers are currently working with 33 families.
The first portion of SafeCare aims to make homes safe for babies and toddlers on the move. This can involve installing baby gates, electrical outlet covers, doorknob covers or safety knobs on a gas stove (SafeCare provides many child safety items). Parent support providers can also coordinate bigger projects such moving “crushing objects” – heavy items that a child could pull down – into storage.
“Most parents have a general idea of hazards, but there may be things they have not thought of,” Espinoza said. “Almost everyone gets something out of it.”
The child health portion of the program includes a manual to guide families through common illnesses and health issues. They discuss different scenarios and how to care for the child at home, when they should see a doctor and when emergency care is necessary. They also receive tips on keeping health records and how to talk to the child’s healthcare provider. Parent-child interaction sessions include guidance for parents on developing healthy and important bonds with their infants and, as children grow, establishing routines and expectations to encourage good behavior. Families also learn strategies to manage parenting frustrations.
Parent support providers receive referrals from health and human service organizations, health care providers and other community organizations that know of families than can benefit from SafeCare support and resources. Referrals to SafeCare can also come from family members, and parents or caregivers can inquire about it for themselves. “This program is very helpful, and I’m very flexible,” Espinoza said. “It’s worth their time and effort to participate. They are going to learn some great parenting skills and get a lot of helpful information.”
SafeCare is free and voluntary for parents or caregivers of children five and younger. Find more information or make a referral here or call 970-871-7686.