Helping children by helping parents

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Nearly everyone knows of children who have suffered as a direct result of conflict between parents who have split up. Children First is a Santa Fe nonprofit which helps children thrive by giving separated parents in Santa Fe and nearby Northern New Mexico ways to communicate and cooperate rather than fight. The program teaches skills and attitudes so that parents work together effectively and shield their children from conflict.
Children First recently installed new board officers. Santa Fe mediator Philip Crump succeeds attorney Sarah Bennett as president, while child psychologist Dr. Louis Levin steps up as vice president and financial planner Lois Stouffer becomes treasurer.
“We are looking forward to a revitalized connection with the Family Court, private family lawyers and mental health professionals, as well as having greater visibility in the community,” Crump said. “People who know our work tell us how important it is for protecting children from the negative consequences of parent separation —but not enough people know about us.” The organization has been serving children and their parents since 2003.
The course of nine weekly two-hour sessions includes a text, brief video clips and lively discussions among the participants. Classes are offered in concurrent sessions — Monday and Thursday evenings — so that co-parents do not attend the same sessions. Each class is led by two facilitators — male and female.
Children whose parents have parted have a higher incidence of at-risk behaviors than children in intact families. The risk factor soars when parents are fighting over their children. Providing separating parents with improved communications skills and behavior options helps reduce the devastating consequences to children of parental conflict.
In a review of course evaluations, more than 97 percent of self-defined, high-conflict participants report improved relationships with their co-parents after taking co-parenting workshops. This in turn helps them give children the sense of safety and security needed — resulting in children who grow up to make good decisions about their lives, with lower incidence of drug and alcohol use, teen pregnancies, failure to matriculate and use of violence.
In addition to the co-parenting classes, Children First sponsors Safe Haven Child Transfer Centers, which are supervised by trained volunteers and professionals to provide a free, safe and conflict-free zone to transfer children from one parent to the other. These centers are housed in local faith communities and are open on a regular schedule.
The next round of nine-week classes is under way. To find out more or to enroll or donate, go to ChildrenFirstNM.org, or call 473-7630.