SIKESTON -- A new program offered at Missouri Delta Medical Center looks to teach local tweens there's more to baby-sitting than babies and sitting.
From how to properly feed a baby and how to perform first aid techniques to creatively entertaining children, the Safe Sitter course, set for June 7 at MDMC, instructs boys and girls ages 11-14 how to handle emergencies when caring for younger children.
"I hear a lot of kids are planning on babysitting this summer," said Kylie Wibbenmeyer, MDMC's Safe Sitter coordinator. "But this program is also good for brothers and sisters whose mothers are expecting and will have a newborn in the house."
Wibbenmeyer recently traveled to Chicago, Ill., for a full day of training on how to conduct the Safe Sitters class. It was there she received information packets, a game kit and hands-on training for how to get the program started.
Unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death in children, and the goal of Safe Sitter is to reduce the number of avoidable and unintentional deaths among children being cared for by adolescent babysitters.
Sally Herroholz, executive director of Safe Sitters based in Indianapolis, Ind., noted the program is a medical model created by a pediatrician.
"The bottom line (of the program) is children recognize when there is a threat to life and that they know what to do and how to get help," Herroholz said. However, the program also empowers young adolescents to make the right decisions in terms of the behavior of the children, to entertain and keep them happy and to be able to stay in control of the children and in control of themselves, Herroholz said.
"They will learn how to prepare for their first day of baby-sitting, the different stages of development for kids, how to diaper and different ways of dealing with behavioral issues with each stage the kid goes through," Wibbenmeyer said.
Young adolescents will also learn what questions to ask before going to a job, such as how many children or pets does the family have and to get phone numbers and a tour of the house and learn where everything is at before being left alone.
"And we teach them to look for things, to make sure guns are in their cases and a whole bunch of things to look for that you wouldn't necessarily think about," Wibbenmeyer said.
As school lets out, many middle school/junior high students will look to baby-sitting as their summer jobs, and Safe Sitter classes will discuss the business aspect of baby-sitting, Wibbenmeyer noted.
"We'll talk about how to properly introduce themselves to a parent and to the children, to give good, firm handshake ... and how to discuss how they'll get paid," Wibbenmeyer said.
Plus it's very reassuring for parents to know their baby sitter has gone through training.
"As a parent, I've always wanted my baby sitter to be educated on what to do in case of an emergency," said Sharon Urhahn, MDMC marketing director. "And on the professional part of it, the hospital needs to do something to educate our adolescents on baby-sitting."
Parents of baby sitters should also play a role in their child's baby-sitting. They should help their children screen their jobs, Herroholz said.
"Our slogan is 'Be better sitters today, be better parents tomorrow' and people should recognize baby-sitting is very early parent education," Herroholz said.
Safe Sitter was founded in 1980 by Indianapolis pediatrician, Dr. Patricia A. Keener, after a nurse's 18-month-old choked to death while under the care of an adult sitter. In reflecting on her colleague's loss, Keener recognized the vulnerability of young children when cared for by unprepared child care providers.
Keener taught the first Safe Sitter class in an Indianapolis middle school. Since that first class of 18 students, over 350,000 young people have completed the course. Safe Sitter is currently taught in all 50 states and England.
To successfully complete the program, students must pass a practical and written test to show they have mastered the key concepts and have the skills necessary to handle an emergency. Those who attend also receive a packet that includes color-coded information cards for different baby-sitting situations.
"They're still young adolescents, but they're assuming adult responsibilities when they're assuming the responsibility of a child's life," Herroholz said. "When they accept a baby-sitting job, they accept responsibility for a child's life and we help them understand how significant that is."
The first class will be offered from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 7 in the Eagles Room at MDMC. Cost is $45. The hospital will add more classes throughout the summer as needed. To register or for more information, contact Wibbenmeyer at (573) 472-7375.