Raising a healthy generation begins with developing knowledgeable parents

Shauna Tominey says one of OPEC’s greatest impacts is helping parents and caregivers realize they are not alone.

Shauna Tominey speaking about compassionate parenting

By Hanna Knowles

At a local bar, parents gathered for their weekly trivia night. But on this particular night, instead of testing their pop-culture knowledge, parents were quizzed on child development. The host was a parenting educator from Mid-Valley Parenting, an Oregon Parenting Education Collaborative (OPEC) parenting hub.

By the end of the night, half of the parents had signed up for parenting education classes. They’re in good company, joining more than 313,000 other caregivers who have accessed some form of parenting education over the last eight years thanks to OPEC.

OPEC brings resources within reach

Shauna Tominey, PhD ’10, CPHHS assistant professor of practice and parenting education specialist, says one of OPEC’s greatest impacts is helping parents and caregivers realize they are not alone. “Research shows that parenting education is also an important strategy to prevent mental health challenges, which are on the rise for adults and children,” she says.

Such education is particularly important during the infant and toddler years, she says, as children’s brains make a million new neural connections every second.

Shauna has led OPEC, a partnership between Oregon State University, the Oregon Community Foundation, The Ford Family Foundation, Meyer Memorial Trust and The Collins Foundation, since 2016.

“To support parenting education is a prevention strategy,” says Mary Louise McClintock, director of education programs at the Oregon Community Foundation. “Even a child’s physical health is impacted by family life.”

Across Oregon, 16 OPEC hubs provide parenting education for anyone in a parenting or caregiver role. In 35 of 36 Oregon counties, plus Siskiyou County, California, the hubs meet the needs of the community by providing free and low-cost parenting education programs, including family fun days, workshops, classes and more.

“We haven’t seen another statewide system and home for parenting education quite like the one we have in Oregon,” Shauna says. “Our state government is taking notice.”

State support is a first in Oregon’s history

OPEC’s network appeals to Lawrence Piper, operations and policy analyst with the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS). “No matter how good of a program you offer, if you’re not accepted in rural communities you are not going to be able to provide services,” he says. “With OPEC and the hubs, the trust is already there.”

Earlier this year, DHS granted OPEC $3 million to leverage its network and expand parenting education programming for elementary aged children, teens and their caregivers, and to provide training for program leaders.

With gaps in services during the infant and toddler years, serving families with older children and adolescents was yet another gap for OPEC and DHS, Shauna says. “Together, with the OPEC infrastructure and DHS funding, we can begin to meet this need for Oregon.”

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown also recognizes the preventive value of parenting education. The Student Success Act includes a dedicated $1 million to support parenting education programming — a first in Oregon’s history.

Christy Cox, senior program officer for the Ford Family Foundation, says these actions are a seismic shift in state funding. “Parents are our most valuable natural resource.”

A partnership rooted in collaboration

Since the establishment of OPEC in 2010, OSU and foundation partners have collaborated on key decisions.

“With help from staff at the Hallie E. Ford Center, we did a scan of the landscape in 2009,” Mary Louise says. “There were pockets of excellence, but there was no home for parenting education or a system to help programs stay afloat.”

Mary Louise says having Oregon State as a partner has been critical to OPEC’s success. “OPEC wouldn’t exist without OSU’s and Shauna’s expertise, technical assistance and community-based programming.”

To aid collaboration, each hub enters data in an online reporting system overseen by Michaella Sektnan, a senior faculty research assistant who serves as evaluation specialist and co-investigator.

“Based on this data, we work with state-level partners to leverage OPEC, find ways to fill gaps and meet our shared goals to support children and families,” Shauna says.

OPEC also focuses on growing the parenting education profession. CPHHS Faculty Research Assistant Kim Deck, OPEC’s professional development coordinator, organizes a yearly parenting educators conference and training institute, and offers a credential for parenting educators.

Numerous CPHHS faculty members collaborate with OPEC, including Bridget Hatfield, Megan Pratt and Shannon Lipscomb. Shauna says OPEC is evaluating how to further leverage research from the college as part of its mission to translate and share research with communities in meaningful ways.

A challenge OPEC is taking head on — addressing the stigma of participating in parenting education programs and letting people know these programs exist.

“OPEC programs are open to all parents and caregivers who don’t want to feel alone on their parenting journey,” Shauna says. “It truly is a gift to families.”