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Elaine Burke - Preventing abuse and neglect

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Guest writer Elaine Burke has served as director of community engagement for A Family Place since October 2013, a few weeks before its official opening. Previously, she worked for nine years in Linfield College’s advancement office. She lives with her family in rural Yamhill County, where she can often be found chasing chickens out of her garden and running after her two young sons.
Guest writer Elaine Burke has served as director of community engagement for A Family Place since October 2013, a few weeks before its official opening. Previously, she worked for nine years in Linfield College’s advancement office. She lives with her family in rural Yamhill County, where she can often be found chasing chickens out of her garden and running after her two young sons.

For too many children, home life is hard. They are growing up with parents who struggle with poverty, substance abuse, mental illness or a history of experiencing abuse themselves.

In October 2013, A Family Place opened in Yamhill County to help stabilize families raising children younger than age 5. A blend of parent education, home visits and a therapeutic “relief” classroom time provides children with a safe, nurturing environment and struggling parents with the chance to take care of themselves.

A Family Place follows a model established in Eugene nearly 40 years ago, which has since been replicated by 15 other relief nurseries in Oregon. Targeted specifically at those early years when more than 80 percent of brain development occurs, it is the only Yamhill County agency dedicated to prevention of child abuse and neglect for these young ages.

With generous community support and an offer from McMinnville First Baptist Church to host the program, the first relief nursery classroom opened. Usually, families are referred to A Family Place, but anyone may contact us directly. Enrollment is based on the number of risk factors for abuse and neglect found to be present in the home.

The relief nursery classroom is crucial to providing a break from a stressful home environment for the child, while parent education and home visits guide families to make significant improvements in their home lives.

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When he started coming to the nursery, “Andy” (all names have been changed), a member of our inaugural relief nursery class, was living in a local substance-abuse-recovery shelter with his father. After a few months, Andy’s mother and younger sister were able to join them, and their family was together again.

But the family was living in a single room. During monthly home visits, Andy’s classroom teacher learned his father was using Andy’s class time to seek a better housing arrangement. She also noted how serious Andy’s dad was about understanding and using the parenting techniques she shared during her visits. Obviously, he was eager to become a better parent; different from the way he had been parented.

When Andy leaves the classroom today, he goes home to a three-bedroom apartment. When questions arise, his parents know who to call. Andy’s 3-year-old brain is developing in a more stable, nurturing environment than was possible a year ago.

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In the fall of 2013, after the birth of her third daughter, “Angela” heard about A Family Place when she visited a resource fair in McMinnville. She enrolled in our mothers’ and babies’ class. The class focuses on recognizing and coping with postpartum depression, one of the top three risk factors for abuse and neglect of young children.

Once enrolled, Angela realized the troubling thoughts she experienced with her second child had been the result of postpartum depression. She had lost custody of her second child and saw her new baby as a second chance. Determined to do it right, Angela established close relationships with other participants during the 12-week class. She gained perspective and understanding of how to keep her moods from having a negative impact on her daughter.

By the time the relief nursery classroom opened, Angela understood the importance of taking time for herself and enrolled her daughter, who continues today in our 3-year-olds class. Months after her daughter started, Angela reported, “I was never excited to see my daughter before; now I am excited every time she comes home.”

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These are just two of many examples of what A Family Place has been able to do in a year. In total, we have already worked with more than 300 families. Our combined services have reached more than 600 children in Yamhill County.

The McMinnville classroom has expanded, and a classroom in Newberg will open later this month, thanks to increasing community support. Volunteers have stepped up to staff diaper banks and clothing closets in both McMinnville and Newberg; they are open between 10 a.m. and noon on Thursdays. We continue to work directly with at-risk children and families in our parent education and relief nursery programs. And hundreds of families remain on our waiting lists as we work to expand these programs.

Words cannot express how grateful we are for the support we have received. The Oregon Association of Relief Nurseries requires 25 percent of funding to come from local sources, which means our ability to grow is tied to our ability to increase revenue from local fundraising. Such an investment in our children is a downpayment on the neighbors, co-workers and employees we want to know in Yamhill County 20 years from now.

We are honored to serve the youngest members of Yamhill County during this important time in their lives.

A family place

What: First-year report

  • www.familyplacerelief.org
  • e-mail eburke@lcsnw.org

Guest writer Elaine Burke has served as director of community engagement for A Family Place since October 2013, a few weeks before its official opening. Previously, she worked for nine years in Linfield College’s advancement office. She lives with her family in rural Yamhill County, where she can often be found chasing chickens out of her garden and running after her two young sons.

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