‘Safe Sitter’ courses teach childcare basics

More than 3,000 local ‘tweens have learned how to protect themselves and the children in their care, thanks to nationally recognized “Safe Sitter” courses provided for more than 25 years by the Parenting Center at Children’s Hospital and the Junior League of New Orleans.
Safe Sitter is a national nonprofit organization devoted to preparing young teens with the life and safety skills they need when they are home alone, watching younger siblings or babysitting. The course will be offered 10 times this summer, from early June through early August. Each one-day session has a maximum enrollment of 24 students and takes place at Junior League headquarters at 4319 Carondelet St.
“It’s a great way to prepare your child for self-care. We want to get to them before they actually start babysitting,” said Barbara LeBlanc, Parenting Center director, noting that the course was established in 1980 by an Indianapolis doctor whose colleague’s 18-month-old child choked to death while in the care of an adult sitter.
Students in grades 6-8 learn basic CPR and how to respond to emergencies such as bleeds, stings and falls. They practice their new skills on mannequins and role-play various situations that might require emergency help. Over the last year, new information has been added about online safety and personal safety for young teens.
“What if the power goes out? What if you smell smoke? What if the phone rings?” LeBlanc said. “If they practice it and envision it, we feel like a young teen will be more likely to respond to it.”
LeBlanc said course evaluations reveal that the young students’ favorite part of the course is learning CPR.
“They’re at that age when they’re constantly asking, ‘What if this happens?’” she said. “So they’re really engaged in the material and excited about it.”      

Childcare skills such as diapering and feeding are taught and practiced using mannequins and dolls, and students learn about the many behavioral milestones of children. Sometimes, a “skill” can be as simple as getting down to a child’s eye-level, LeBlanc notes.

“What do I do if they’re fighting or won’t go to bed?” she said, adding that students watch one of their classmates at play with an actual toddler and get to critique his or her babysitting skills afterward.

Life and Business Skills covers everything from handling that first babysitting phone call to arranging in advance who will be responsible for transporting the babysitter to and from the care location. They practice how to greet their adult clients and are taught to have their hourly charge determined before that inevitable question is asked.

“We want them to babysit for a person they know or have a reference on – and that they actually call the person who referred them to make sure they know about the family,” Le-Blanc said. “Am I able to do the job? How many kids and what ages? Am I safe? Am I available and do I have permission?”

Pre-registration is required. Cost is $50 per student. Scholarships are available. Call 896-9591 or visit www.theparentingcenter.net

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