New Chatham Parenting Education Program finds early success, but needs more funding

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BENNETT — It took Cassie Hallyburton hitting rock bottom for her to reach out for help. For her, that moment came when she was convicted of her fourth driving under the influence charge last September.

“I knew I had a problem,” Hallyburton said. “I was lacking in my ability to motivate. I had to realize there was more to life than just getting f***ed up all the time.”

Hallyburton then checked herself into FIRST at Blue Ridge, a rehab center. She left the facility in December and in January, began taking parenting education classes through the Chatham County Court Programs every Tuesday. The program is meant to ensure safe households for children and parents following cycles of abuse or neglect.

This week is her last in the program.

“If I hadn’t done something, I probably would’ve been dead,” Hallyburton, 39, said. “[The parenting program] has taught me the definition of resilience. And I am resilient because I have overcome my past.”

Following the completion of the parenting education course, Hallyburton’s three children will return home in June. She said seeing them, along with her internal motivation to do better, inspired her to take initiative.

“I am a firm believer that if you do not want to do it yourself, then nobody is going to make you do anything,” Hallyburton said.

The parenting education program through Chatham County Court Programs uses a curriculum from Nurturing Parenting, which builds parenting skills as an alternative to abusive and neglectful parenting and child-rearing practices.

While Chatham County’s parenting education program has helped people like Hallyburton get back on their feet, its successes are sometimes undermined by a lack of resources in the county’s Family Treatment Court.

Janice Hanner is parent educator in Chatham County. She said the program works by helping parents understand how to meet their children’s needs as well as their own.

“If the parent’s needs are not being met, chances are abuse and neglect is going to occur,” Hanner said. “Sometimes, though, the resources are not available in Chatham for those parents to move further and take the next steps.”

Court Programs Director Renita Foxx said bringing on Hanner and the parenting education program last year was a huge step, but there’s still a long way to go.

“The county does a great job for kids under the age of 5,” Foxx said. “But over the age of 5, we are just lacking in being able to provide supportive services to parents who are struggling.”

Prior to last March, those involved in FTC were forced to travel to Orange County to have their cases handled. Chatham County received a three-year grant to create a countywide FTC. The grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention is for $870,000.

Officials from the Chatham County Dept. of Social Services said prior to the grant, it was difficult for people in Chatham to meet their court dates because of minimal public transportation options.

“We are excited to have our very own FTC here in Chatham, and it has been very successful over this first year,” said Kara Dudley, public information officer for Chatham County, in an email to the News + Record. “We fully expect it to continue to grow and assist families in being successful in their recovery process. Plans are already underway to make sure the court is sustainable for years to come.”

Dudley said in an email creating sustainability also involves ensuring the community is willing to engage in these programs, regardless of their history, by destigmatizing participation in future parenting programs.

Cim Brailer is the program administrator and deputy director at the Chatham County Department of Social Services. She agreed with Dudley, saying getting these programs to the county is a start, but there is still a need for more.

“You need a whole continuum,” Brailer said. “Depending on the need for each particular family, you need different resources to point them to.”

Brailer said resources like parenting education and FTC have long existed in larger nearby counties like Wake and Orange. Making them long-term viable options in Chatham, however, has been difficult. She said Chatham doesn’t have the funding or the staffing of its larger urban neighbors, so for now, it has to make due with what’s available.

“Having a full-blown parenting agency is something we would like to start building here in Chatham,” Brailer said.

The amalgamation of services for parents includes online Triple P, Incredible Years and KidSCope along with parenting groups like Kaleidoscope. Each of these, however, are run through third-party providers rather than the county.

At present, that means the parenting education program operated by Hanner works specifically with parents and families, like Hallyburton, on child welfare.

“Janice reminded me of what skills I already had,” Hallyburton said. “She taught me how to be a better parent, because I matter too.”

Hallyburton said the parenting education program has helped rebuild her relationship with her three children. She plays sports with them on unsupervised visits and interacts in ways she didn’t before by listening to their needs.

“I used to not take the time for myself, and it made me not have the time for my kids,” Hallyburton said. “Realizing that has made me build myself back up. I grow through what I go through.”

Hallyburton said Hanner taught her the value of self-worth in parenting and the importance of both positive and negative discipline tactics. Cassie said she was proud of the progress she’s made and highly recommends the parenting education program to others.

Success stories like Hallyburton’s are why Hanner said there is a need to expand these services in Chatham County.

“We don’t want to hold parents in a way that puts them in a box,” Hanner said. “I want parents to learn their actions shouldn’t be held against them forever. Reach out for help and keep asking for help here. We don’t want to remain stuck.”

Ben Rappaport can be reached at brappaport@chathamnr.com or @b_rappaport.

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