By Renee Summers, Telegram Newspaper, Published Dec. 27, 2018
Being a parent is a full-time job. It’s not an easy one, and these days there are many who simply walk away from the responsibility. But take heart; there are those who are up to the challenge. Just ask Starfish Family Service’s Susan Powers.
Starfish Family Services is a non-profit agency which has been helping parents and families since 1963. Its mission states, “Strengthening families to create brighter futures for children.” Powers works out of the agency’s Dearborn Offices and manages and organizes The Parenthood Program, aimed at pregnant and parenting teenagers. Powers admits that she herself was a teen mom years ago and that it wasn’t easy. “I talk from experience, you know, I’ve been there, I know the challenges that you face,” she says. Powers uses her experience to reach other young girls (and yes, a few boys), enabling them to see that parenthood can be very fulfilling. “I felt like I could have an impact,” she adds.
Starfish Family Services works with the Michigan Adolescent Pregnancy and Parenting Program (MI-APP), a program funded by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). Through their partnership, Starfish and MI-APP seek to teach teen parents basic child care and development and how to interact with their baby. Numerous methods and paths are used to achieve this goal, including utilizing resources already available within the community.
The Parenting Program is voluntary, open to anyone 20 years and younger, and free of cost. Powers performs engagement and outreach with high schools, teen clinics, libraries and community centers. Some pregnant teens and teen parents are referred to Starfish via other social agencies or case workers with state aid agencies.
Each case is different and the program is personalized to suit what each participant needs. “We try to help them finish growing up,” Powers says. “These are still kids. They’re teenagers-but they’re parents. ”
A case manager meets with each client a minimum of twice a month, either at home or at school. They help teen parents identify basic short-term goals, such as passing a math test in school, and attain them. This provides confidence to keep striving. The focus can also be on finishing high school, applying for community college, obtaining a driver’s license or state ID, finding employment, or managing a weekly budget. These are skills most people learn as young adults. But for a teen parent, the skills become a life necessity and acquiring them becomes urgent.
The Parenthood Program also assists with transportation issues, which can be a barrier to anyone striving for a better life. “We want to get them from where they are to where they need to be in order to be productive adults,” says Powers. Many of the teen parents lack any sort of support system. The program aims to fill that void through group meetings that engage young girls with other teen parents while focusing on a particular topic such as financial organization, job hunting and resume writing, and relationships. Sometimes, they just need to talk, and talking and listening can help teen parents realize they are not alone.
But it’s not all seriousness and work. Powers often takes a small group of teens and their babies to local libraries to participate in story hours. Sometimes they visit a local park, and this past summer, a group went to the Detroit Zoo. The goal is to get the teens to realize the resources available to them in their communities, and take the initiative to access those resources. Powers says she finds it extremely rewarding to see teen parents interact with their babies in positive ways, trying to be the best parents they can. The biggest challenge, she says, is getting teen dads involved in their babies’ lives.
Four key areas Powers says the program focuses on are education and career success, adult relationship support, teen parent and child health, and family stability. The program is working; in 2017, they celebrated seven high school graduates, four of whom are still clients of The Parenthood Program. Some have found employment while others have gone on to higher education.
For more information on Starfish Family Services and The Parenthood Program, visit http://www.starfishfamilyservices.org. or call 734-756-1860. Susan Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.