Parents connect 'Heart to Heart' for help with kids
Parenting can be a pretty tough gig.
Children don't come with a manual, and as youngsters challenge parents with unique quirks and different needs, it can be difficult to know what to do.
Now, help is available for parents who are struggling with an issue and need some help. Heart to Heart, a new, support program launched on Tuesday, provides free text, phone and email support to parents of children from birth to age 5. Parents can call and talk to a trained parent volunteer for in-the-moment parent support or help connecting a referral.
Heart to Heart founder Sarah Guilfoy, who is a parent and former schoolteacher, said she understands how important it is to have a parent support line.
"Parents would often reach out to me at 9 at night as a teacher with questions about their child or how to best help them, and I realized that this was a service that was missing from our community," she said. "Raising a child, I often felt alone and wondered if I was doing things right."
Heart to Heart welcomes calls from parents and others about family life and parenting. With the exception of medical and legal questions, the service responds to almost any parenting question. If they cannot help, they will try to find someone who can.
The service will be offered to parents of young children throughout Central Oregon, including the communities of Warm Springs, Madras, Sisters, Prineville, Redmond, Bend and La Pine.
Guilfoy said she chose the birth-through-5 age range because it presents unique needs for children as well as additional challenges for parents.
"Research has shown that the majority of growth in children in their brain development tends to happen in that age range," she said. "On top of that, that is one of the most stressful periods of time for parents. So when you put those two together, it was kind of a no-brainer."
Volunteers can address issues ranging from picky eating, separation anxiety and sibling rivalry to coping with divorce, conflicting parenting styles and parent anger and emotions. Parents can request advice about school difficulties, learning disabilities and friendship problems as well.
The new program does not put a cap on how many times a parent can reach out. Some parents may only need to contact Heart to Heart once and are able to get the support they require, while others could arrange a follow-up call or contact them when new issues arise.
All information parents share with Heart to Heart will be confidential. Parent educators may need to discuss their work with a supervisor to ensure they assist parents the best way they can, but supervisors are bound by confidentiality as well. The only exception is allegations or suspicion of child abuse, which by law cannot be kept confidential, and must be reported to the appropriate authorities.
Heart to Heart is a program partner of Healthy Beginnings, an organization that provides Central Oregon families with free health and development screenings for children birth to age 5. Its director Diane Murray-Fleck is excited about this partnership.
"We know that the first five years are critical to both children and families," she said. "The collaboration of Healthy Beginnings and Heart to Heart will help to create a sense of community and belonging in raising the next generation of Oregonians."
Those who feel like they could help other parents in their moment of need could choose to volunteer for Heart to Heart. The program is currently seeking parent volunteers. They can work from home or anywhere else where they have cell phone service and are asked to commit three hours a week.
"I would love for volunteers to reach out to me," Guilfoy said.