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Hult Center Offers Safe Sitter Program As Families Seek Childcare Options

Hult Center for Healthy Living

A babysitter training program for adolescent girls wants to help some Peoria families address their childcare needs as schools modify schedules in the wake of COVID-19.

The Safe Sitter course offered through the Hult Center for Healthy Living provides girls in grades 6-8 with skills for watching brothers or sisters while their parents are working.

“We thought that there was a growing need, due to COVID and kids being home alone or needing to watch siblings with remote learning, for this type of program,” said Jessica Johnson, a health education specialist at Hult Center.

“It was super important to be able to provide them with additional safety skills, childcare skills, just to make sure they're being as safe as possible.”

A $5,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Central Illinois’ Women's Fund awarded in October enabled Hult Center to launch the program, covering the costs of training instructors and holding three sessions of the 6½-hour course.

The first two sessions were held in June at South Side Mission and Proctor Recreation Center, while a third session targeted for early August remains in the planning stages.

Last month, Peoria Public Schools a three-tiered staggered schedule plan for the upcoming academic year, with tier one having older students to attend school from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; the second tier goes from 8:20 a.m. to 2:50 p.m., and the third tier from 9:10-3:40.

Johnson said it’s clear parents are relying on their kids more often for help with childcare.

“We have asked the students that we've seen so far, ‘Have you had to babysit before, watch younger siblings?’ and all of them have said yes,” said Johnson. “So to some capacity, they've already had to watch younger siblings or maybe family friends or something like that before. A lot of them actually even had experience changing diapers already.”

Hult Center is working with Peoria Public Schools and UnityPoint Health to recruit participants, specifically targeting at-risk neighborhoods. The class fee is normally $55, but Johnson said they are still looking at ways to cover the expense for participants who cannot afford it.

“No one has to pay; we actually are looking into zip codes that don't have as much opportunity to be able to afford a Safe Sitter program to be able to offer it at no cost. Later this summer, we should have that set up,” said Johnson, noting they hope to be able to offer weekend sessions in the fall.

“What's covered under the grant with Women's Fund is completely covered; we will be offering it at a cost even once the grant is over with,” she said.

Safe Sitter is a national nonprofit registered in all 50 states with a goal of building safer communities through childcare training, teaching more than 35,000 students annually at 850 training sites. Course participants receive Safe Sitter certification upon completing the class. Johnson said the interactive instruction covers a wide range of information and skills.

“Safety skills, learning how to prevent unsafe situations and what to do with dangers like power failures or weather emergencies,” she said. “Also, first aid and rescue skills: Choking rescue, and we go through CPR and how to do that and we also have them practice.

“Life and business skills, where we teach them how to actually turn this into a business and how to be professional. And then childcare skills as well, like managing behavior with different age groups.”

Johnson said anyone interested in registering for a Safe Sitter class or getting more information can contact the Hult Center at 309-692-6650 or visit the center's website www.hulthealthy.org.

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Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.