By Molly • Molly Walker • 

New relief nursery plans to open in October

Since the program was announced months ago, Cara Copeland has been hired as director. Some programs are underway and fundraising is in progress to raise the $85,000 in local money needed to match the state and foundation funds already received. The group recently took over the Healthy Start program from Yamhill County, which includes home visits to new parents, work on child development issues and work with parents who might have risk factors.

“A lot of exciting things are happening,” said Copeland, a former administrator and professor at George Fox University who holds a master’s degree in sociology. 

Copeland said the classroom will be staffed by family support specialists, who not only will help the children, but will also offer parenting classes and in-home assistance for those involved. She’s already been contacted by 85 parents who have expressed interest in one or more of the services.

“There’s clearly a felt need by families,” said Copeland.

Dr. Peg Miller, a pediatrician who serves on the group’s leadership council, said that services underway have developed as they blended well with some of those that Lutheran Community Services, the nonprofit under which the program is operating, already offered.

Miller, who has practiced pediatrics for 30 years and serves as the medical director for Juliette’s House, a child abuse intervention center, said she sees through her work the needs of the community and where improvement can be made for children.

“I think all parents want the best for their kids. Some have better tools,” said Miller. Stressed situations, such as poverty, unemployment, drug and alcohol abuse and domestic violence can interfere with a parent’s ability to realize the potential in their children.

“I see the relief nursery as helping the parents find the tools and help them be nurturing parents,” said Miller. She said one of the goals is to identify the needs of the families and address those needs.

Miller said when parents are in a difficult situation, they often park children in front of some form of media, be it television, video games or even a cell phone.

“So many parents don’t realize the risk of too much media,” said Miller.

Parent education, ensuring children are safe and secure and looking at issues such as a healthy supply of food and access to medical care will be a key factor in the relief nursery.

“So many parents don’t realize the chaos their kids are living in because they’re caught up in their own lives,” said Miller.

Copeland said she feels the time is right to start this facility.

“The community is really behind this and the families were asking for it,” said Copeland.

The plan calls for sessions two mornings a week, which will include meals and transportation. Copeland hopes that a program for three-year-olds can be started shortly after the two-year-old classes begin. In August, a class for mothers and babies will be offered at a site to be determined.

“Particularly in this economy, families are facing stressors that are really impacting young children,” said Copeland. “We know there are lifelong effects if the child’s brain doesn’t receive what it needs.”

In addition to the therapeutic classroom in McMinnville, the relief nursery will offer a monthly family night in Newberg which will start at a building of Newberg Friends Church and move to Joyful Servant Lutheran Church after a remodel project is completed. The long-term vision is to eventually start a satellite nursery in Newberg.

This will be the state’s 16th relief nursery and has received funding through the state legislature and funds from private foundations and local fundraising efforts. Grants for the Yamhill County program were given by the Spirit Mountain Community Fund, Oregon Community Foundation and United Way Mid-Willamette Valley. First Federal approved a $5,000 donation this month. The Willamette Valley Medical Center has also supported the effort.

”There’s good science behind this and why it works,” said Miller. “The outcome part is really compelling to me why we need it.”

Portland State University’s Center for Improvement of Child and Family Services evaluated Oregon’s relief nurseries between 2010 and 2012. It concluded that significant improvements were made through the programs across many areas, including increased parent employment, improved quality of parent-child interactions, increased frequency of reading to children, reduced number of family risk factors, improved family functioning and stability, reduced use of emergency room services and increased rates of child immunizations. 

“If we can decrease the incidents of child abuse in the county and support the healthy development of kids — that’s a huge deal,” said Miller. “I think the relief nursery has the potential to do that.”

Both Miller and Copeland are excited about the future opening of the therapeutic classroom and the chance to help change cycles of intergenerational abuse and neglect through the various programs.

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