Correction to This Article
This story mistakenly identified the fiscal 2007 cost of the Nurturing Parenting Program program as about $3.3 million. The correct figure is appoximately $841,000.

Helping Adults Teach Their Kids Well

By Chris L. Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 3, 2008

Desaree Carter knew she needed a little bit of help. It had been nearly 15 years since she had raised a toddler, and as she watched her relationship with her second child, Nathaniel Counts, develop, she felt there was something missing in her efforts to be the best parent she could be.

So Carter, 37, who lives near Fort Belvoir, contacted a Fairfax County program that helps parents parent. Classes in the Nurturing Parenting Program are for residents who need guidance raising kids or intervention when relationships in the family begin to break down.

"I didn't want the fact that I was a single parent to be a disadvantage to him," Carter said. "I wanted to be equipped with everything I could gain to be the best parent I could for him." She is going to the classes for help with Nathaniel, 4; she also has a 19-year-old son, Marcelle Kyer, who lives with his father, and she said she needed to be schooled in the new issues that her sons would be facing.

"I want him to say that she gave him the very best of everything and did everything she could to be a great mom," Carter added.

County staff members said that the program is especially geared toward intervening in families before difficult conditions reach a violent crescendo.

"One of the chief purposes of the program is preventing child abuse and neglect," said Mary Phelps, program manager for the county's Child Abuse Prevention Services. "This is a way we can help our children thrive."

Parents often take the classes voluntarily, as in Carter's case; they also can be ordered to take them by a family court judge. About 25 percent of the cases are ordered by the court or have been strongly recommended by the county's Child Protective Services. In court-ordered instances, judges review the parents' attendance before children are returned to their home.

Tracy Lewis is one such person. Her son, Cameron Payne, 3, was removed from her care several months ago, after she had collapsed into a stove while drunk and burned parts of her body. When she woke up in the hospital, she learned that her son had been placed with relatives in Luray, Va., nearly 80 miles away.

"That was my wake-up call, when I was in the hospital bed and realized that my son had been taken from me," she said.

The past two years, Lewis said, have been rough ones: Cameron's father died, and Lewis spent 13 months in several prisons for violating probation. When she returned, she said, she continued to struggle with alcohol even as she tried to get back on her feet and got a job at Starbucks.

Lewis has custody of her son Wednesdays through Saturdays and is scheduled to receive full custody next month.

She said the program helps her develop a better sense of how to discipline and design a structure for her son.

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