When it comes to the safety of a person's child, only the very best will do.
That is where the Safe Sitters program comes in, making sure that baby sitters for hire are the very best they can be.
"The purpose of the Safe Sitter program is to educate 11- through 13-year-olds to be safe baby sitters," Safe Sitter instructor Lauri Lingafelt said. "During the two-day course, the Safe Sitter participants learn the business of baby-sitting. They learn everything from how much to charge to what to do if there is an emergency."
The program, which has been offered on the central peninsula since the early 90s, teaches a step-by-step instructional program that shows future sitters what to do in case of an emergency. Courses taught by the instructors include child and infant cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, first aid, behavior aid and injury management.
"You learn a lot here," 13-year-old Samantha Graham of Kenai said. "I have baby-sat before, and I thought it would be fun and educational to take this (course). It is, it's very fun, and I have learned a lot."
The course was founded in Indiana in 1980 by pediatrician Dr. Patricia A. Keener after a colleague's 18-month-old choked to death while under a sitter's care. Locally, it is hosted by Central Peninsula General Hospital and is designed to make sure every Safe Sitter graduate is fully knowledgeable when they become a child-care provider.
Students in the class rehearse scenarios they might encounter during a baby-sitting job.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
"I am confident that these kids know everything we teach them when they graduate," Lingafelt said. "We (the instructors) will sit and discuss if anyone needs a little extra help in an area. If they do, then we are more than happy to help them until they get it right."
The course, which was held Monday and Tuesday in O'Neil Hall on West Redoubt Avenue in Soldotna, had no vacancies. According to Lingafelt, there is even a waiting list of aspiring baby sitters.
"The reason I wanted to join the course ... is because I wanted to do some baby-sitting," 11-year-old Coby McKeirnan of Soldotna said. "I also just wanted to do it because I heard it was fun. My favorite thing is the CPR and the Heimlich maneuver, stuff you can really use if you have to."
Safe Sitters teach the kids how to become responsible and well-trained sitters, but the program's motto suggests that it is looking toward the future at the same time.
"Our motto is 'Better sitters today -- better parents tomorrow," and I think we do everything we can to make that motto come true," Lingafelt said. "Not only do the kids learn how to take care of other people's children, but the more experience they have with kids, the more prepared they will be when they have their own."
The whole Safe Sitter program revolves around the idea that most young adolescents lack the knowledge of first aid, rescue skills, behavior management techniques and life experiences necessary for handling the variety of emergencies that might occur on any given night of baby-sitting. The program strives to teach its students to be efficient and effective in the face of emergency.
"I think everybody gets a certificate saying that they passed the course," Graham said. "Parents probably feel a lot better having a baby sitter that knows what to do if something happens."
Along with a certificate of graduation, the students who complete the course are rewarded with a backpack containing items such as a flashlight, a memo pad, introduction cards and even a small first-aid kit that includes examination gloves and some bandages.
The Safe Sitters, a nationwide program, has received numerous awards from various groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics.
According to information provided by the Safe Sitter program, the course was improved above its award-winning standards for the year 2000 and beyond, revising with a major curriculum update to add content and teaching methods in response to changes in society and educational methods.
"They have changed the format so it is more fun for the kids but more educational at the same time," Lingafelt said. "This course is just great. The kids love it, and the parents who need baby sitters are glad it is around."
Even with its national recognition and certified instructors who teach its classes, the program's biggest award comes from the satisfaction of both the sitter it teaches and the parents they serve.
"I am going to tell my friends about it," McKeirnan said. "I think they will have fun. They will learn a whole lot of stuff here that they will be able to use for a long time."
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