BROKEN HEARTHS: Advice for Mom and Dad is only a phone call away

Helpline and website offer support and resources to struggling SLO County parents

jlynem@thetribunenews.comSeptember 18, 2010 

Bill Spencer has heard a multitude of stories from anxious moms and dads.

Some are barely scraping by with several jobs or trying desperately to find work. Others need help controlling their rebellious teens or want to know why their children are acting out, he said. But such reactions by children are not unusual when parents bring their stress home, said Spencer, a volunteer for a new helpline that assists parents.

“Parents do feel stress over a lot of things and financial is probably way up there now,” Spencer said. “And in these times, maybe they can’t afford to see a counselor or therapist. It’s not that we’re taking the place of that, but we ... can help them work through solutions to some of their problems.”

Spencer, who has taught parenting classes in the county for 20 years, is one of a handful of local parents who signed up this spring for training to listen and give advice and referrals to distressed parents.

The helpline is part of Parent Connection of San Luis Obispo County, a Web-based resource center launched last year in the midst of the economic crisis after a group of parents, local professionals and teachers identified parent support as a critical need in the county.

Parent Connection, which received funding from the state’s Mental Health Services Act and the nonprofit San Luis Obispo Child Abuse Prevention Council, provides resources, including a list of parenting classes and referrals to programs for children with mental illness.

“In the last year, I’ve had 81 calls on the resource line asking for parenting classes, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” said Michele Gordon, education coordinator for Parent Connection.

So far, calls to the helpline have been sporadic, with calls coming in every day some weeks and fewer in others. But the desperation in the callers’ voices suggests that many parents feel helpless, Spencer said.

“I have talked to parents who are having financial issues, and they just feel so overwhelmed, and sometimes, they just feel like giving up,” he said. “They don’t have enough money to do this, or they’re trying to find a job or working several jobs. Some are single parents. With all those things, unless parents have ways to effectively deal with the stress, then parenting will be tough for them.”

While the goal now is to assist parents confidentially by phone, face-to-face sessions may be offered in the future, depending on the community’s willingness to adopt that approach.

“We’re giving parents some hope,” Spencer said. “Just because things are tough now doesn’t mean they will be in the future.”

Help for parents

Parent Connection of San Luis Obispo County, 543-3700 and www.sloparents.org.

Parent Connection Helpline, 904-1411

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