Dr. Matt Hirschfeld introduces Triple P to Sitka health and welfare professionals. (KCAW photo/Greta Mart)

Dr. Matt Hirschfeld introduces Triple P to Sitka health and welfare professionals. (KCAW photo/Greta Mart)

Recently the Alaska Mental Health Trust contributed funding to an Anchorage-based group of public and private health care providers called the All Alaska Pediatric Partnership. The Partnership’s mission is to figure out ways to help make all Alaskan children healthier, and this recent round of funding will establish healthy parenting programs in a handful of Alaskan communities. Sitka is one of the communities being considered for the new program.

Parenting is one of the most difficult and complex tasks many of us will undertake in our lifetimes. Kids don’t come with an instruction manual. Yet across cultures, there is a deep-rooted reluctance among parents to ask for help.

“There is a stigma involved with admitting that you may not know everything about being a parent…in the old days when we had an entire village raising children, nowadays it’s much more localized with just the parents,” said Anchorage pediatrician Dr. Matt Hirschfeld, who met with local healthcare providers in Sitka earlier this month.

“What we’re trying to do is gauge Sitka’s interest in developing something called a Positive Parenting Program. And what that is is it’s a program that teaches local providers – whether they be social workers, medical providers, nurses, case managers, anybody who interacts with families on a regular basis – how to teach people how to be better parents,” said Hirschfeld.

For longtime Sitkan pediatrician David Vastola, the meeting was his formal introduction to the Triple P.

“I find that I’m often addressing individual things as they happen and often after the fact where if the parents had skills and tools they were given up-front…that would be an amazing investment in time and resources, and it would be tremendously more satisfying for the parent, help them navigate the day in and day out issues that come up as we raise our kids,” said Vastola.

The Positive Parenting Program was created in Australia 30 years ago and is now used in 25 countries around the world, across the economic and cultural spectrum. It provides a cohesive tool kit to professionals working with parents. Dr Vastola says it offers a new approach to behavior:

“The whole concept is on positive parenting, the opposite being coercive parenting – I think we have all found ourselves in a position of saying to our children – do this or else. We are reacting and we’re working from a negative point of view, if you don’t do this, this will happen. Versus really emphasizing positive themes and helping the child make the right decisions proactively without having to be threatened or coerced,” Vastola said.

SEARHC psychiatrist SR Thorward told Dr. Hirschfeld that SEARHC care providers could work Triple P into their existing programs. He said it would fit particularly well with a new group he’s launching for young mothers or pregnant women who have used heroin or struggle with chemical dependency.

“It will be centered about anything we can do to empower them to stay sober and keep a sober home and a home of sobriety and wellbriety for themselves and for their child,” said Thorward.

Besides Drs. Thorward and Vastola, representatives from native health care groups, private practitioners, Office of Children’s Services, Headstart and Alaska Infant Learning all told Hirschfeld they were interested in bring the Triple P program to Sitka.

“If we get great community interest and involvement, then we do have the money at All Alaska Pediatric Partnership to help you guys institute this here. It’s a trial run, if it works in Sitka and it shows that outcomes of child abuse and neglect decrease across the city, we will take this to the Legislature and see if we can institute this statewide,” said Hirschfeld.

All Alaska Pediatric Partnership’s website is http://a2p2.com. Click here for more information on SEARHC’s new group for young mothers with a history of chemical dependency, or call (907) 966-8411. The group begins on July 24.