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Keep Mom Out of Trouble and Kids Will Follow

Since babies don’t come with instruction manuals, the next best thing might be available from nurse Catherine Burton-Girardi in Elmira, New York. She teaches at-risk moms Parenting 101, starting 3 months before the baby comes.

Catherine says, "Some people need to be taught the basics because maybe they didn't have the basics."

Following up for 2 years after, as much as she helps the mom become a focused parent, the real target is the child. It’s a 20-year-old program now in 200 countries nationwide.

An alternative approach to "Just say no" is: If you want at-risk kids to walk the straight and narrow, put their moms on the path first.

Catherine says of children, "The first years of life are very important. A lot of things are developing at that time, and when those first years start as good years, then their later years will be better."

What started years ago as a theory here in Elmira has yielded some concrete facts. In a 15-year follow-up of the first children born into the program, there was less drinking, less drug use, and less crime. There were 54% fewer arrests than among children from similar backgrounds whose mothers did not get the training.

David Olds, program developer, says, "Improving health, improving care, and helping families become more economically self-sufficient will, our research proves, provide better-functioning children once they reach adolescence."

Tom Petros is second in his high school class of 300. He now has a 3.8 average at RPI, one of the top technical colleges in the country.

"I turned out okay," says Tom. His mother, Julie Petros, says, "He was high-risk. We were lucky." Julie was one of the first moms drafted into the program--at 18 years old, more prepared to party than to parent.

Tom Petros says of his parents, "They were still kids when they had me. I think the program helped them grow up so that they could make sure that I grew up a little more on the straight side."

Catherine thinks the program will not only produce more kids like Tom across the country but also help create one in her own home.

Catherine admits, "I know I am a better mom than I would have been without it."

She once was pregnant and alone in Elmira. None of her clients can tell her the program won’t help, because that is exactly where she turned to straighten her life out.

"My mom taught me all the things not to do," says Catherine. Catherine broke the cycle and says, "What a cycle it was." She will make sure that her 9-year-old does not repeat it.

"I hope that he is a better person than even I am today," says Catherine of her son.
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