For parents needing child care help, Family Support Center gives them a safe place to turn

Published: Sunday, July 28 2013 6:35 p.m. MDT

Caregiver Martha Hernandez feeds Drayson Tolman, left, and another child at the Family Support Center in Midvale on Friday, July 26, 2013. Two recent cases of women leaving toddlers at home has raised the need to bring awareness of programs such as these for emergency and regular child care assistance.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

MIDVALE — At the three crisis nurseries operated by the Family Support Center, no one day is like another.

Sometimes stressed-out parents just need a couple of hours to pull themselves together. Or a single father en route to a job interview has had a babysitter cancel at the last minute.

And then there was the telephone call from a mother who told executive director Bonnie Peters, “ ‘I’m going to go out tonight and I’m going to get stoned. I’d like to bring my kids to the crisis nursery because I’m going to go out.’ ’’

Peters, who is a mother, a grandmother and a great-grandmother of six, agreed to care for the children — not to enable the mother — but to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the children.

“The best interests of the child are paramount,” Peters said.

It's a guiding principle of the Family Support Center, which operates free crisis nurseries and provides structured, developmentally appropriate child care programs at its locations in Sugar House, West Valley City and Midvale.

Peters said she wants the community to be aware of crisis child care resources, particularly after recent news reports about two Salt Lake County women facing felony neglect charges after leaving their toddler-age children unattended while they went to work.

While there have been a number of high-profile incidents of child abandonment this summer, (six allegations statewide January through June) the data does not suggest an uptick in these cases, child welfare officials say.

Kids home alone

Reporting of these allegations tends to be higher in the summer months when children are home from school and child care programs with schedules that coincide with school schedules, said Nate Acree, a licensed clinical social worker and family reservation therapist for the state Division of Child and Family Services.

The cases that rise to the level of criminal charges are the most egregious, with parents leaving young children alone for several hours, leaving them food and confined to certain rooms of a house or apartment. Some of the cases involve abuse of the children or drug abuse and untreated mental illness on the part of parents.

Most of the abandonment allegations investigated by that DCFS involve a lack of communication between parents or caregivers — one thinking the other is watching the children, Acree said.

"With a lot of the younger ones, they're not parents we've even had a case with. They just take their eyes off a kid and bam, they're gone. They get out the door and they haven't even noticed," he said.

In those cases, DCFS workers work with parents to instruct them about proper supervision of children and help connect them to state and community resources. Most of the time, no additional contact is required.

Peters said recent news reports were troubling, particularly so because one of the families lived within a half-mile of a Family Support Center crisis nursery.

While Peters said she understand that parents can occasionally feel overwhelmed with the competing demands of family and work, leaving a helpless child alone is not acceptable.

"Please don't. We can help. We have three crisis nurseries that can help," she said. "We will always find a way to help, somehow, somewhere."

Crisis centers

On Friday morning, there were four children in the crisis nursery in Midvale, which cares for children newborn through age 11.

Next door, the center operates a traditional child care facility, which offers its Kid Start Day Care curriculum.

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