Partnership brings parent support to teen moms

Last Fall, PEPS partnered with Cocoon House, the Snohomish Health District, and Crossroads Alternative High School to offer a PEPS Group to new moms.

The PEPS Group started with 5 new moms and met for 8 weeks. Students received credit at Crossroads Alternative High School by participating in the program.

The PEPS format encouraged the moms to talk to each other and about what they know. It isn’t like a class or guidance from nurses or therapists. “They get that top down info a lot,” Holly said, “And the peer support model shaped it in a different way,” by focusing on their strengths.

Cocoon House North is Cocoon House’s Maternity Group Home for pregnant or teenage mothers experiencing homelessness. It’s a long term transitional living shelter where mothers can stay until they turn 18 years old. They also provide support for school and employment, as well as life skills and planning for future long term housing. They introduced a trauma-informed pathway for expecting mothers to help support their birth experience and empower them to make their own choices in care (birth place, care provider, childbirth education etc.). “We try to honor their baby’s arrival in the world, and their transition to motherhood,” says Laura Ehling PCD (NAPS), CLE. Laura is a Community Outreach Youth Counselor at Cocoon House and also postpartum doula and lactation educator working with the resident moms.

Crossroads Alternative High School and Cocoon House had long wanted to have support and programming for new moms, recognizing the need to promote resiliency and community among these young parents. Holly McCallum, MA, LMHCA is a licensed mental health counselor at Cocoon House North worked with Laura Ehling to develop a young mom support group on their own, but at times sessions were more like group therapy, which while helpful, did not create a supportive connection among the participants. They were in the process of rethinking how to restructure the program to make it work.

From left: Tammy Sawyer – Crossroads/Open Doors School; Laura Ehling – Cocoon House; Holly McCallum – Compass Health; Felicia Cain – Snohomish Health District

“Teens who become pregnant struggle to finish high school. Often, they often have a history of childhood trauma and thus experience many barriers to health for themselves.  They face further challenges in ensuring the health of their children,” said Felicia Cain, MSN RN, of the Snohomish Health District.

“Support services with intensive case management can help these at-risk youth deal with the challenges they face,” said Felicia. Yet she continued, “When they exit services, many of these youth don’t have a supportive community that promotes resilient families.”

The collaboration came about when Felicia Cain, connected PEPS, Cocoon House, Crossroads and the Snohomish Health District. “I was at Child Strive’s Parents as Teachers Advisory Committee meeting when I heard the Program Manager of Cocoon House Maternity Group Home discuss the challenge of creating a parent support group at Crossroads; I knew PEPS could help,” Felicia said.

Felicia is a public health nurse in the Prevention Services Division of the Snohomish Health District. She knew from meetings and conferences that connecting the expertise, needs and capacities of each organization could create and deliver a program to teen moms. Felicia provided the backbone to this collaboration, as a liaison between Cocoon House, PEPS, and Crossroads Alternative High School.

PEPS provided the curriculum for the program and also trained the facilitators and staff supporting it. The PEPS model focuses on building community through peer support.

The teens quickly used the format of PEPS to jumpstart their conversations. “Towards the later meetings, they were able to jump into talking about the topics using the prompts in the PEPS curriculum,” Holly said.

Initially there was some resistance to the structure, but they became eager to share back and forth, talking in a gentle respectful way. “I liked how their skills developed to talk to other moms about everyday things as moms. Unwanted advice was a really good topic.” Holly said.

The PEPS format encouraged the moms to talk to each other and about what they know. It isn’t like a class or guidance from nurses or therapists. “They get that top down info a lot,” Holly said, “And the peer support model shaped it in a different way,” by focusing on their strengths.

Tammy Sawyer is a Special Education paraprofessional at Crossroads Alternative High School and she fixed the classroom up nicely for the moms and babies to use for their meetings. Tammy continued to support the Crossroads class, and in addition to giving the students a .5 high school credit, the school also provided transportation to meetings.

The group seemed to connect around being new moms. For example, at their Cocoon House home, moms spent more time together doing things like tummy time that might have been a solo activity before the group. Holly said, “Saying ‘let’s play together on the floor’ was a change for residents and the PEPS Group had something to do with that. PEPS was the opportunity to learn those skills and navigate those social cues.”

One new mom said at the last meeting that “it was nice that my baby got to play with new babies of different ages.”

The group wrapped up on a Friday in mid-December. Cocoon House and Crossroads is planning for a new series to start in March, with mostly new moms and also open to residents of Cocoon House who may have participated in the first group.

Jessica Lawmaster, executive director at PEPS, said, “It was an honor to be a part of this project. Collaboration like this is a way to bring parent support to new families in ways that none of us can achieve alone.”

 

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