Seasoned parents’ showing new parents the ropes is what Give A Parent Support (GAPS) is all about. Volunteers and public health nurses work together to assist first time, at-risk parents in dealing with the demands of parenthood. Developed by the Pima County Health Department Public Health Nursing Division and supported by funding from the United Way, GAPS volunteers seek to prevent child abuse and neglect through early intervention.
GAPS began in 1990 as Grandparents Adopted for Parental Support seeking to provide a way for retired individuals to contribute their time and talents. Today, GAPS has expanded to include adults of all ages. Volunteers are trained to provide support in the home. In their weekly visits, they demonstrate how to care for an infant and how to create a caring environment. They teach parenting skills on issues such as the growth and development of a child, proper nutrition for a child and the safety and health of a child. But most importantly, they provide a listening ear and friendship to the new parents.
Typically, after the birth of a child, GAPS volunteers spend two to four hours each week with participating families. This is coupled with the efforts of a project coordinator and a public health nurse who guide and supervise the volunteers and monitor the child's health and developmental status. First-time parents participating in the program are selected by public health nurses and social workers who believe they would benefit from the support of GAPS. This interaction continues through the first three years of the child's life.
Through early intervention, GAPS volunteers provide a service at no-cost to the parent that has proven to prevent child abuse. In the past year, 17 volunteers made 282 home visits with 775 client contacts and donated 1,300 hours of service. No abuse took place in any of the homes. Ninety-five percent of the families were able to identify at least one support system. Ninety-one percent of the families were able to identify age appropriate behavior for their child. One hundred percent of the GAPS children have completed immunizations. Additionally, one hundred percent of GAPS families utilized community resources for sick and well care.
GAPS volunteers enhance existing services. They support families in their efforts to continue their education or to obtain job skills so they can become independent. They "fill in the gaps" as a link between public health nurses and families in need of support.