Starfish Family Services
Serves more than 10,000 children and families annually
Launched Baby Power program last year with help from CFSEM grant
More than 150 teen moms at risk for depression have gone through the program
Originally published in the Volume 27, Spring 2013 issue.
Maternal depression can have a lasting impact on child development. It interferes with maternal bonding and can compromise a child’s ability to learn and thrive emotionally. In Inkster, a predominantly African-American suburb, many women of childbearing age face conditions that put them at high risk of depression — low levels of education, chronic stress and economic hardship. For pregnant teens in poverty, these conditions are often compounded by a sense of shame and isolation.
The child development experts at Starfish Family Services know firsthand the challenges maternal depression poses to the academic and emotional success of children in their community. Starfish serves more than 10,000 children and families annually with family support programs and early childhood education. Last year, a grant from the Community Foundation helped them launch a new mental health and parenting intervention program for pregnant teens with a high risk factor for maternal depression — a traditionally challenging group to reach and serve.
The Baby Power program began with innovative outreach activities: baby showers in Inkster community centers, childbirth education and the distribution of free diapers and formula. More than 350 moms and babies received baby items and raffle tickets for cribs and car seats and helped to raise community awareness about services for at-risk teen moms.
The core 12-week intervention is based on work conducted at the University of Michigan Depression Center under the direction of Dr. Maria Muzik of the Department of Psychiatry. It serves both pregnant teens and parenting teen mothers by offering structured parent support and education activities, group time with other moms-to-be, and an opportunity to work with trained child development coaches who model effective and nurturing ways to parent infants and young children. Several sessions also explore strategies the moms can use to continue their education and career training.
This class is a really powerful tool that can help bring a foundation to the life of both child and parent. It can teach moms how to have a healthy relationship with their child, regardless of the way they have been raised and what they have been taught…
~ A participating teen mother
Due to the vulnerability of the participants and the lack of healthy parenting in their own lives, the program makes it a priority to help them become better advocates for themselves. Participants learn more about their children’s needs, how to better manage stress, and how to identify resources in the community that can support them and their babies. There are about 10 mothers in each Baby Power group; they become a close-knit peer network. Camaraderie is reinforced by shared meals, an atmosphere of positive reinforcement and respect for the important life passage they are going through together.
The teen mothers appreciate being in a group that is just for them, and they are glad to have a place where they do not feel criticized for being pregnant. “I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep my baby,” said one participant. “But when I decided to have her, no one helped me… In this group, I get to learn new things and hear about what I am doing right.” The teens report gaining insight into how poor parenting might have affected their own lives, and how they can break the cycle by adopting different parenting skills and strategies with their own children.
Early outcomes of Baby Power are promising. The program has exceeded its goal of reaching 150 at-risk teen mothers. Mothers are observed and videotaped with their babies at the beginning and the end of the program. Based on commonly accepted child development and mother-child bonding scores, all have achieved improved levels of caregiving. They also report improved social support and decreased levels of depression and anxiety. The Baby Power program has a waiting list and is working to meet community need by securing funding to train additional staff and enlist interns from local universities.
Starfish staff, led by Executive Director Ann Kalass, are encouraged by the program’s potential to nurture happier, more secure teen moms and babies. Seventy-five percent of the participating Baby Power mothers have engaged with at least one other Starfish early childhood program, meeting the goal of keeping these vulnerable families connected to an ongoing source of support.
One articulate young mother sums up the benefits of Baby Power this way: “This class is a really powerful tool that can help bring a foundation to the life of both child and parent. It can teach moms how to have a healthy relationship with their child, regardless of the way they have been raised and what they have been taught. There is power in knowledge, and through knowledge there is change.”
To support the Community Foundation’s work with innovative organizations working with youth and families, contact Lindsey Rossow-Rood at firstname.lastname@example.org or 313.961.6675.