Kiwanis Attempting To Prevent Abuse Early In Great Falls

october-perezArticle courtesy – Great Falls Tribune

Though it is difficult to find hope in Great Falls’ massive child abuse problem, it is also difficult to feel helpless.

Efforts are underway by Great Falls Kiwanis Club, the Early Childhood Coalition, the Dandelion Foundation and more to put real programs in place that will prevent abuse from ever happening.

Right now, the coalition is just in the planning stages, but hopes to open a crisis nursery in the next couple of years that would be available to parents for up to 72 hours, according to Leesha Ford, president of Great Falls Kiwanis and a member of the coalition. The crisis nursery will be called Toby’s House, in memory of October Perez, who was killed by her mother’s live-in boyfriend in 2011.

“The aim is to reduce child abuse,” said Ford, who is also a labor and delivery nurse with Benefis Health System. “There is nowhere for parents to take their children when they are in crisis. It’s a life-saving thing for parents.”

Toby’s House will feature licensed caregivers and an intake system to offer emergency care to kids. Ford said there are many reasons why a parent might need to access the the nursery. Some parents might have to go to work and are in need of a childcare provider, some might be frustrated with their crying baby and need a safe place to take the child while they take care of themselves and others might need to pull the child from an abusive situation quickly.

“Not everybody has that supportive network,” she said.

Members of the coalition are seeking donations and are in search of property toward the center of town where Toby’s House could be located. It’s going to take some time to make it happen, but Ford said places and programs such as this have been successfully implemented in cities like Spokane.

“It takes buy-in from the entire community to provide that loving, caring atmosphere for parents,” she said.

Also, this month, Great Falls Kiwanis Club is providing helpful tools to new parents.

Kiwanis is distributing copies of the DVD “The Happiest Baby on the Block” based on the book by Dr. Harvey Karp that has received national praise for its parenting techniques.

Ford said she read the book and has been happily teaching the practices as a labor and delivery nurse for years. At the new parent classes, often literature is distributed based on “The Period of PURPLE Crying” which she said is great, but doesn’t address some of the ways to soothe a baby and Ford said not every parent-to-be takes the parenting classes.

With the Happiest Baby materials, Ford said parents are taught the five S’s — swaddle, side, sway, sound and suck — to help recreate the womb for the young infants. Doing so kicks in the calm reflex and helps the children sleep longer, and the parents get to take what they learned home with them from the hospital.

Kiwanis also is providing one swaddling blanket to each child born at Benefis this month, too, she said. The goal is to make the DVDs and blankets an ongoing gift to new parents at Benefis, but it will require additional financial support to do so.

Ford said part of the international Kiwanis mission is to take care of kids. The Great Falls Kiwanis Club hosts a Christmas party each year for low-income children attending HeadStart and more. These efforts during Child Abuse Prevention Awareness month are just one more way to care for kids and end the cycle of abuse.

“This is a start,” Ford said. “There’s no one magic solution.”