For Laurel County parents Dakota Mullins and Brittany Baker Mullins, receiving full custody of their 2-year-old daughter, Reighlee, in the same year they both were released from correctional facilities was a victory. They credit the Nurturing Children Program at Saint Joseph London for their 180-degree change.
Since its inception in 2016, the hospital’s Nurturing Children Program has used the evidence-based Nurturing Parenting program to educate parents and community members through awareness, curriculum and skills that establish intolerance of abuse and neglect as the norm through modified behaviors of actions. In-person classes held at Saint Joseph London moved to a virtual platform when the COVID-19 pandemic started and has produced more than 120 graduates, including the Mullins family, with a 91% reduction in the rate of recidivism of abuse and neglect since the beginning of the program.
“Brittany and Dakota both made sacrifices to get this point,” said violence prevention coordinator Mollie Harris. “They both had to be uncomfortable, cut ties – that’s a very isolating, lonely feeling. But they wanted to change. Everything about them, their attitudes, are a 180-degree difference now.”
Harris and Jara Burkhart, program administrative assistant, facilitate classes for women who are pregnant and parents or guardians for children 4 years old and younger as part of a grant provided through the Saint Joseph London Foundation.
“What I like to tell our parents [who say] ‘I’m a parent. I don’t need parenting education,’ is our education course takes you back to the basics of parenting and allows you to forget all of the negative parenting you’ve learned and pass down the good things you’ve learned to your children,” Harris said.
Brittany and Dakota said the classes taught them a lot about proper discipline and what it means to be a good parent.
“I thought spanking your kids as discipline was OK because I was spanked,” Dakota said. “Everything we learned was new to me and really helped break down parenting.”
“I loved their classes,” Brittany said. “I got so much detailed information about stuff I thought I already knew. And Mollie and Jara have always been such great support for us.”
The couple also said they have been enjoying active parenting, taking their daughter to the park, going on a small vacation and getting to spend Saturday mornings watching her favorite cartoons.
Accomplishing something that felt almost impossible at one time, Brittany said the program showed her she could do anything she put her mind to. She earned her peer support certification to help those recovering from substance abuse, just as she did.
“It’s so rewarding to see how far they’ve come,” Burkhart said. “Brittany started this journey when Dakota was still incarcerated, and she took so many steps by herself. And when Dakota was able to come back into the picture, there was no question – they decided to do this program together. It’s seldom you see parents come through this together.”