Parent-Child Center book to serve as manual for a new wave of educators

MIDDLEBURY — As one can imagine, the leaders and educators at the Addison County Parent/Child Center are pretty busy teaching young parents to become good nurturers and imparting basic social skills to kids. Veteran staff members have mentored thousands of adults and children, during which they’ve learned — through trial and error — what works when it comes to child rearing.
“It’s constantly growing, our understanding of young children and how to help them heal or manage the challenges in their lives,” said Parent-Child Center educator Howard Russell, who joined the center when it opened back in 1980.
Around a decade ago, Russell and his colleagues collectively realized they should be putting down on paper and computer the techniques that have worked best in helping their clients become great human beings.
Now they have; and they’ve published it as a new book called “I’m Home!!: A Manual for Providing Therapeutic Child Care.”
Simply described, it’s a manual written by early childhood practitioners for early childhood practitioners. It’s on sale locally at the Vermont Book Shop and online through Amazon.
Four past or present Parent-Child Center workers provided the content for “I’m Home!!”: Russell, Susan Harding, Anne Wallace and Linda Bouffard. All have had a hand in either running the center or being on the front lines of its programming, which has earned a statewide reputation. Today the center serves almost 2,000 Addison County residents annually by providing child care, parent education, play groups, job training, academic education, social services and assistance in moving from welfare to work.
Donna Bailey, current co-director of the center, believes the new book will help those seeking to get into the early childhood field and those currently teaching such skills. She also thinks parents will get some useful tips from the book.
“Anyone can learn from it,” Bailey said.
The book offers a definition of “therapeutic child care,” as well as a related checklist for practitioners. It includes useful strategies for those in the industry, including key phrases and humor that can be employed to defuse difficult situations and get children to interact well with their peers.
It also offers pointers for when “chaos reigns.”
In short, keep a level head and try to demonstrate by example more acceptable forms of behavior.
“We can teach children, by reactions, that chaos or the feeling of chaos does not have to equate with danger, at least not in our program,” the book reads. “ Children are looking to us all the time to gauge our reactions to situations. The therapeutic opportunity is in how we teachers remain calm, confident and flexible, and in accepting that some amount of chaos is normal and survivable.”
But the book is not all about teaching. The authors offer examples of lessons they’ve learned from their young charges. Included are vignettes of actual cases (with client names kept anonymous) that helped inform the center educators and adapt programming accordingly.
One of the vignettes was about a child named “Rick,” who was in a home situation that included domestic violence, active drug use, medical neglect and a “severe lack of hygiene.” The child didn’t want to return home at the end of the day. While lovable, polite and popular with his peers, Rick found it difficult to take naps and would scream in his teacher’s arms. Center officials received information indicating Rick’s four-year-old brother would keep knives under his bed to protect himself and Rick.
Upon arriving at the center in the morning, Rick would keep his coat on and curl up on the floor, before slowly reaching out to his teachers and his peers — a mechanism center officials would recognize as a defense mechanism called “dissociation.”
Child protective services initially argued there wasn’t enough evidence to have Rick and his siblings removed from the home, according to the book. But center officials saw a particular sense of urgency and ultimately convinced state officials that his best interests weren’t served remaining in the home. The Addison County State’s Attorney’s Office ultimately pushed for terminating parental rights, and Rick was quickly adopted by a loving home where he has flourished, according to the book.
“When we see a child exhibiting dissociative behavior or other defense mechanisms in response to stress, we need to remember that these defense mechanisms are not the problem,” the authors state of the lesson learned from Rick’s case. “Our goal should be to change the situation underlying the coping strategy, not to remove the coping strategy itself.”
Rick’s case was unusual, in that the vast majority of center clients don’t require such dramatic intervention in their lives, officials noted. And it’s great to see the authors’ therapeutic child care strategies pay dividends at the center, Bailey noted.
“How it becomes real is when you see it in a child,” Bailey said.
The authors chose the “I’m Home” title for the book because those words have been uttered by several children over the years upon entering the center, Bailey noted. It’s good to know the kids like it at the center, but it in some cases reflects things might not be great at home.
“It’s bittersweet,” Bailey said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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