The constant presence of home staff offers residents many opportunities for informal lessons on the skills needed to parent and live independently. In addition, some of the required chores are specifically designed to give residents a chance to practice these skills. Still, most maternity group homes — and all of those visited for this study — also offer formal instruction in these areas. Classes covering parenting and life-skills topics are one of the most common support services that homes provide, and attendance at these classes is typically mandatory for all residents.
Such classes can look very different in different homes, however. For one thing, the frequency at which life skills and parenting classes are held varies considerably across homes. Some homes require residents to attend several group sessions each week, while others offer such classes only a few times a month. Programs also differ in the specific topics covered, theuse of standard curriculum across a number of networked homes, and the types of staff involved in leading these classes.
Classes cover a wide range of topics, including nutrition, child development, health, money management, resumes, housing search, self-esteem, anger management, domestic violence, family planning, and sexually transmitted diseases. Some homes organize their classes in a single series that combines all parenting and life skills, covering a different specific topic at each session. Other homes offer a few separate series, each covering a different broad topic area (such as one on parenting and another on life skills), so that residents attend a number of different classes each week or month. For example, a common pattern is to hold a parenting class one night a week and a life-skills class another night. Also, some homes have regular house meetings that may include discussion of parenting and life skills topics.
Some networks have selected a single curriculum for parenting or life-skills classes to be used in all their homes. For example, all homes in Georgia’s network use the Minnesota Early Design (MELD) curriculum, specially designed to teach parenting skills to at-risk adolescent parents. The main objective of the MELD curriculum is to reduce incidents of physical and emotional abuse of children. Homes in Massachusetts’s statewide network use the Preparing Adolescents for Young Adulthood (PAYA) curriculum — developed by the Massachusetts Department of Social Services (MDSS), which includes sections specifically for teen parents and is used across the state to teach life skills to adolescents in MDSS care — supplemented by more hands-on lessons and sometimes external speakers. Other homes decide on their own which specific life skills and parenting topics to cover, and in what format.
Some homes rely on their own staff to teach parenting and life-skills classes, while others bring in partners to fill these roles. Homes may have a single partner teach an entire series of classes, or they may use a different partner to lead each session, thus providing residents with access to an expert on each specific topic (and avoiding burdening any one partner too much). A few homes pay partners, but most are volunteers — often employees of other organizations with missions to provide such services. (Types and roles of partners are discussed in greater detail in Chapter IV.)