First published in The CSR Review 2012-2013
One morning at a primary school assembly, a mother interrupted the assembly to call out her son in front of the school of about 200 children. He was a lively, bright, charming boy who was very active, but bored by school. When he approached her, a belt appeared in her hand and she proceeded to let him know: “If you don’t listen you go feel!” She followed each word with a stinging lash across his buttocks and legs. The onlookers were so stunned we were paralyzed. The boy did not cry. Those lashes hurt, but he refused to cry. There was clearly an internal battle raging as he fought with the burning pain. But the humiliation in his eyes was unmistakable.
That mother was not a bad mother. Not an evil stepmother, simply an exhausted, overwhelmed single parent with a boy-child she could neither understand nor control. She had tried everything she knew to get this ‘harden’ boy to be like other good, studious boys and had failed. He seemed destined for failure and ultimately jail in her eyes.
The child’s crime was that he did not learn like other children. He could not sit still for long periods of time listening to a teacher just talking. He shuffled, fiddled, daydreamed and played with pencils, tore pages out of his books to make planes and things that moved. He needed to move! His mother and teachers could not understand that. They did not have the information or the tools to support him.
Witnessing that incident, almost 20 years ago, provided for me the impetus to take action. Trinidad and Tobago Innovative Parenting Support (TTIPS) celebrates its eighteenth anniversary in September 2013. Founded in 1995, the organization was born out of the awareness that many parents and caregivers, like that mother, were making critical errors in parenting, simply because that was all they knew. Marina Torres, a Child Development and Education Specialist, Marilyn Atherley (now Robb) and I connected through our work with and passion for children. We shared a distress at the way “different” children were treated by their well-meaning parents. Marilyn and I were faced with the results daily in our classrooms and Marina in her practice.
Parenting Support Newsletter
To inform parents about current understanding of child development and modern parenting techniques, we started the production of the Parenting Support Newsletter. I put together the layout on a Mac Classic, Marina and Marilyn Xeroxed two hundred copies and distributed to friends, schools and anyone who was interested, with the direction to copy it and pass it on. Eighteen years later we are ParentingTT, still registered as TTIPS. Based in Arima, the services and programmes have evolved in response to client requests and to our own parenting experiences. They now include counseling, presentations to PTAs and groups, interactive workshops, parenting courses and community building projects. However, the organization still holds true to its mission to empower and inform and encourage innovative parenting.
Thorough the support and nurturing of international trusts – the Canadian High Commission’s Fund for Local Initiatives and the J.B. Fernandes Trust 1 – a registered non-profit entity has been created. The employees have been trained, guided and coached to function as a small business. In 2012 the organization reached more than 800 men women and children directly through interactive presentations and workshops and counseling services. Add the newsletter distribution and that number reaches more than 12,000.
Filling a gap
Like many Civil Society organizations, ParentingTT clearly serves an urgent need in our society. The clientele are primarily parents from lower and middle-income families; mostly women and children, some in the throes of stress, abuse, poverty or relationship chaos, with the accompanying emotional pain and distress. Many of them are stable, working mothers and fathers who want to ensure that nothing gets in the way of their child succeeding in the education system.
ParentingTT sought to address a gap in the social services provided by successive governments. The government services that exist are overwhelmed and buckling under the load. The organization’s work addresses an urgent national concern – that of creating wholesome, supportive home environments for children; to reduce the number of distorted and damaged human beings that have been emerging as adults from modern-day families of all classes, creeds and races. The clients are respectable parents who want to heal and help their families. There are many persons under such financial stress that they cannot afford professional services. To have a child assessed by a professional at a cost of $3000 or more is out of their reach, so the child loses.
The cost or providing our services to families has been assisted largely by foreign agencies like the J.B. Fernandes Trust, the European Union, foreign embassies and UNDP, that have committed to building capacity and professionalizing the Civil Society sector through the provision of education and training in non-profit management. The Ministry of the People and Social Development has provided ParentingTT with a small subvention in recent years. Many Civil society Organizations today are as efficient or more so than some small and medium sized businesses. The major challenges are in finding the financial support to deliver the services to the people who need or want them most, in promoting the services, and to providing the wide-scale public education that could reduce social, emotional and economic problems.
Bold British Gas
The Corporate sector has contributed in small ways over the years by sponsoring attendees at the annual vacation camp, BP paid for newsletters to be distributed in Guyaguyare, Lever Brothers partnered with in their campaign to encourage play, and others have made small donations. In 2012 British Gas partnered with ParentingTT to take a bold step in supporting children and families in a two-year project centred on the Blanchissuese Secondary school. This project is the first of its kind and involved educational assessments for the entire school population of more than 200 students, counseling for the students who need it, mentoring for fifty students, peer helper training, teacher training and a community building project aimed at building on the strengths of the North Coast parents and communities.
Citizens Security Programme
In September 2012 ParentingTT was contracted by the Ministry of National Security to provide parent education and support services to the Beetham Gardens and Gonzales Communities. This has involved working with members of the community to train parents in Becoming a Love and Logic Parent, Peer Helping, 21st Century Parenting and conducting an Appreciative Inquiry workshop to create and build on a vision of the community based on its current strengths.
ParentingTT’s next bold step is the production of a national all-media campaign that will highlight the positive parenting practices used in the nation and encourage parents to act consciously. This campaign will start in September 2013 with radio and press tips accompanied by social media content and interaction.
We invite you to share the in the satisfaction and sense of accomplishment we experience when we see a lives changed for the better, by becoming a member of the Parentingtt family.
Barbara King, Executive Director