In 2010, Oklahoma was ranked fifth in the nation for births to teens, with 6,597 babies. Even in a state with such high numbers, however, Roberts’ situation is rare, as girls under 15 accounted for only 1.5 percent of teenage births.
Family Builders’ mission is the prevention and treatment of child abuse and domestic violence. The organization typically works with adult parents who have lost custody to the state as a result of abuse or neglect.
“We’ve expanded our programs to include parenting classes for teens as part of our prevention strategy,” said Gayla Westbrook, director for child abuse and prevention. “Teaching young parents to discipline effectively is critical.”
Emerson Alternative Education High School hosts the program, which met weekly during the recently concluded school year. A group of 20 young mothers eventually coalesced into a core of nine who completed the course. The moms ranged in age from 14 to 18, and their children, some of whom were cared for in
Emerson’s child-care facility, ranged from 1 month to 3 years.
Roberts said the sessions were helpful, especially the parts on potty training and discipline.
“At first, we just talked about our babies, but eventually, we started learning to do things differently,” she said.
“We learned we didn’t have to hit or yell. I didn’t believe it at first. I took it home, though, and used it with my son.”
The curriculum comes from the Nurturing Parenting Programs, an organization developed by child abuse expert Stephen Bavolek. The tools are designed for group interaction, which Roberts said proved to be more beneficial than she had expected.
“All of us had different things to say, and sometimes someone would ask a question that no one else had thought of,” she said.
Laura Gamble, Family Builders executive director, said the sessions usually began by asking the girls what questions they had about parenting.
“They seemed to learn better that way,” Gamble said. “Discipline and potty training were the big issues, but schedules, mealtime, bathing and appropriate diet were important topics, too.”
The program was funded by a grant from the Potts Family Foundation, and Gamble said Family Builders is looking for funding next year, as well.
“We’d like to expand the program to include fathers,” she said, “but everything depends on funding.”
Roberts said the instruction has helped her overcome worrying about being a good parent.
“I strive every day to make my son happy rather than worry,” she said.