- Launched in 2011, Changing Our Parenting Experience (COPE) is a riveting, reality-based parenting skills program aimed at middle and high school students to raise child abuse awareness and prevent teen pregnancy
As middle and high school students across the region embark on another school year, thoughts of future parenting skills may not be top of mind. However, St. Louis-based non-profit organization COPE24 is trying to change that mentality in an effort to raise child abuse awareness and prevent teen pregnancy. Launched in Missouri schools in early 2011, COPE24, which stands for Changing Our Parenting Experience, is a practical, effective two-week parenting skills program that is playing a key role in educating young people about the stresses of parenting and ways to notice and prevent child abuse. In March, the program was successfully piloted in six Missouri schools, and the organization has plans to reach even more children this school year.
Cope24 was founded by Rene Howitt after her experience as a foster parent led her to author the book, Whose Best Interest? A Fight to Save Two American Kids. After the book’s release in 2008, Howitt was appointed to the Missouri Children’s Justice Task Force, and she also acted as a child advocate, speaking to educators and students across Missouri and throughout the Midwest. The positive response she received from students prompted her to found the organization in 2010. Through her efforts and through the efforts of the COPE24 program, more than 13,000 high school students in St. Louis and throughout Missouri have been positively impacted.
"The COPE24 program helps kids in middle school and high school understand that parenting is very stressful, and it’s very easy to slip into neglectful abusive parenting," said Howitt. “By reaching out to adolescents, we hope to create awareness of child abuse and prevent teen pregnancy, which often translates in a higher rate of abuse and neglect among children by teen parents.”
The Cope24 program has already received positive feedback from the six schools it was piloted in earlier this year. Imagine College Prep High School, which is located in St. Louis City, is among the schools that have already received the program. An additional 12 school districts in Missouri; including Festus, Jennings and Wentzville/Timberland in the St. Louis area; and seven schools in Indiana, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Wisconsin, have plans to implement the program this year.
According to the Children’s Defense Fund, a child is abused every two hours in Missouri, and at the beginning of the year, 5,451 children were reported to be victims of abuse and neglect. The number of children in foster care in Missouri is approximately 9,912. The annual Child Maltreatment report issued by the US Department of Health and Human Sources Children's Bureau states that in 2009, almost 2,000 children died from abuse, neglect, or single impulsive incidents, such as shaking an infant or suffocation. Infants and toddlers are most vulnerable to maltreatment. One-third of the 2009 child victims reported were younger than four years old, and one-fifth of them were between the ages of 4 and 7.
The COPE24 program aims to break the cycle of abuse through a series of materials that consist of a professionally produced DVD with ten parenting scenarios, including shaken baby, co-sleeping, bedtime challenges, potty training, tantrums, homework, negative parenting, and sexual abuse. Each of the ten videos was created by actors with a reality-based theme to effectively connect with today’s youth. The instructor's manual, written and vetted by experts in their fields, includes detailed support materials and exercises to bring the messages home. The fee of the materials is the only cost of the program to educators and other organizations who wish to implement it.
"My students had lots of questions after going through this two-week program, one scenario a day. The compelling dialogue and videos really help kids 'get it'," according to Kristi Hodson, one Missouri high school teacher who participated in the pilot program.
Howitt feels that the more preparation young people receive about parenting, the less likely they will be to start their own families at a young age. "We also want to help kids and adults understand that drugs and alcohol play a significant role in child abuse, and that learning good parenting skills can really help down the line," she said.
The COPE24 Parenting Skills program is discounted through Aug. 31, 2011, to encourage schools nationwide to sign up, bring the program to their students this year and help lessen the strain on school budgets (purchase orders accepted). COPE24’s ultimate goal is to provide the program free of charge to schools nationwide. As a result, the organization is hosting its first fundraising event at Over/Under Bar at 911 Washington Ave. in downtown St. Louis. From 6:30 – 10:00 p.m. on Monday, September 26, Over/Under will donate 15 percent of its drink proceeds to benefit the COPE24 mission. Complimentary food will be served from 6:30 – 8:00 p.m., and the event will also feature a 50/50 raffle.
For more information about the fundraising event, or for order details for both the COPE24 program and Whose Best Interest? The Fight to Save Two American Kids, please visit http://www.COPE24.com.
COPE24, a 501(c)(3) non-profit educational and charitable organization based in St. Louis, Mo, is also exploring grants and funding to provide communities, hospitals, child advocacy groups, and churches with the program. Howitt is also available to speak to organizations concerned about the health and welfare of our youth.