'Maria" was a 28 year-old new mom overcome with depression. Her three-month old son was healthy, her partner supportive. But she spent days crying, thinking about the previous child that she lost when she was 25 weeks pregnant—thinking about how overwhelming it all was, this new little human being with so many needs, and no owner's manual.
Maria moved back in with her family for help. Eventually, through the USDA's Women, Infants, and Children program, she was referred to a place that would provide therapy, advice and direction—a place that would help her negotiate time off with her employer so she could bond with her son and that would give her hope of moving back in with her partner and starting her family on a positive note again.
Maria's hope came from the California Parenting Institute, where the perinatal mood disorder program is just one of many resources available to parents who've known the all-too-common frustration of hitting a wall. Founded in 1978, the nonprofit offers parenting groups, therapy, group classes, supervised visitation, in-home visits, off-site classes, autism programs, a call center, the New Directions school and various trauma treatment programs. Their mission is simple: to end child abuse and strengthen the health of children, parents and families.
"We get funding to see kids who don't have health insurance, so it's like the last-ditch safety net for kids," says executive director Robin Bowen. "Kids who have been abused, kids who come from high-conflict divorce, kids who have witnessed community violence, kids who have been in some traumatizing accidents, or maybe just even witnessed horrible things in their community—those kids can come here without insurance."
Except there's a waiting list for the programs at CPI—Bowen estimates about 80 kids total. That's why last week, Bowen walked through the warehouse into which CPI will be expanding, explaining how the new Parent Education Center will increase services, whittle down the waiting list and better serve families in Sonoma County.
"It's really hard when you have kids who have trauma—maybe they're being bullied at school—and you have to go, 'Well, we have a waiting list,'" Bowen says. "And a lot of these families don't have a lot of resources to go elsewhere, so they're stuck waiting."
Adding an extra 4,600 square feet for group rooms, playrooms and supervised visits will surely help. Construction is slated to be completed in September and is estimated to serve an additional 250 children and families each year. (Last year, more than 3,000 families received services from CPI.)
The expansion is being funded by a $350,000 donation from First 5 Sonoma County, and by nearly $100,000 from Connie Codding and Jean Schulz. While a bank loan is covering the additional bills, "We're short about a half million," says Bowen, "and that's what we're looking for right now."
In 2007, the G.K. Hardt Foundation gave $500,000 to CPI to improve its existing center on Standish Avenue in southwest Santa Rosa. Bowen estimates that CPI has doubled in size since then.
Expansion into the warehouse across the parking lot will also allow CPI to concentrate mental-health services into one building. "I think people are getting more comfortable with looking for mental health help," says Toni Sprouse, who serves on the CPI's board of directors, "and becoming more aware that there are issues, and you need to seek help."
An estimated 51 percent of children seen at CPI are affected by domestic violence. Some parents are referred to CPI from family court on child-abuse issues, mandated to complete a 52-week program. Some are returning veterans with PTSD. Some have drug or alcohol issues. All of them have a chance for a better start at CPI. At the same time, says Tiffani Montgomery, CPI's marketing director, "we're here for everybody. For any type of family. Anyone can call us."
Indeed, classes are inexpensive and accessible—$10 to $50, depending on duration—and are bilingual. They range from infant massage and yoga classes to raising a child with an ex-partner and handling anger. Along with parenting tips, the classes provide a reminder that parents aren't alone in the struggles they face, says Bowen, who's served as executive director at CPI for over 30 years, and who has three grown children of her own.
Her ultimate advice for parents echoes that of many: "Enjoy your kids. Really, really enjoy your kids. Because they're little for only so long."