By: Laura Ginsberg
Focus on Kids has been used by the circuit since January 2009. Administered by the University of Missouri Extension, the program fulfills a state mandate that requires all parents who are separating, divorcing or seeking a custody modification to participate in a parent education program.
"The program helps divorced and separated parents learn how to support their children through the process, and how to work together in co-parenting their children," said Sarah Traub, human development and family studies specialist for the UM Extension office in Waynesville.
Traub, who teaches the program in Pulaski County, said Focus on Kids provides parents with instruction and tools to help them navigate through a difficult time in their lives, and the lives of their children.
"The biggest thing we teach is communication; how to communicate with your children about what is going on in their lives," she said. "We also teach parents how important it is to keep one another informed and aware of all issues so they can support each other through co-parenting."
The program also stresses how important it is for parents to avoid putting their children in the middle of whatever disputes may occur.
"We teach parents not to use their children as a go-between, or to send messages to one another," Traub said. "Anything parenting related needs to be discussed together, without involving the children."
Focus on Kids is designed as a two-and-a-half-hour session where parents are given packets of information and references related to parenting. Those attending also watch a video in which children who have been through a divorce or separation talk about their experiences.
"A lot of these children feel like it was their fault," Traub said.
Parents also watch a video of several vignettes in which common parenting situations are portrayed. The vignettes are then discussed under the guidance of trained parent educator.
Extensive surveys and evaluations of the program show that parents who complete Focus on Kids look on it as a favorable experience. Ninety percent of parents agree the program helped them think of new ways to resolve conflicts with the other parent, 91 percent feel the program offered helpful suggestions on how to support their children's relationship with both parents, and 95 percent believe Focus on Kids provides useful information on how to reduce stress for their children.
"I think that data is pretty profound when you consider that this is a mandated course for those who attend," Traub said.
Currently, Focus on Kids is offered at the UM Extension offices in Pulaski, Phelps and Texas counties. In Phelps County, the program is taught by Chantae Alfred, family financial and education specialist. In Texas County, the program's instructor is Cammie Younger, nutrition and health education specialist. Traub, Alfred and Younger all were trained by a specialist from Focus on Kids and observed and co-taught the course before becoming certified.
The cost of the program is $25 per session. Focus on Kids also can be taken online if parents are unable to attend a session in person. The cost for the online program is $40, but is expected to increase in the coming months.
The current Focus on Kids schedule will be changing in 2011, and individuals who would like more information on the program, including times it is offered, should contact the Phelps County UM Extension office at 573-458-6260, the Pulaski County office at 573-774-6177 or the Texas County office at 417-967-4545.
Information also can be found online at missourifamilies.org/fok by clicking on the county in which classes are being sought.