Photos by Kristen Rivero
Every summer, Junior League of New Orleans’s (JLNO) Safe Sitter program trains young adults ages 11-13 to become safe and responsible childcare providers. The national program, begun by an emergency room physician in 1980 to address preventable child deaths, teaches preteens how to respond to any manner of potentially dangerous situations including choking response, how to administer CPR and what to do in the case of severe weather warnings. The national Safe Sitter office provides the one-day training curriculum, which is then delivered locally by JLNO’s Safe Sitter Committee members.
Sustainer Elizabeth Hailey, Safe Sitter Chair in 2003, says that the League’s adoption of the Safe Sitter program, in partnership with The Parenting Center at Children’s Hospital, came about because, “we saw it aligned with the League’s objectives of advancing the well-being of women and children. It dovetailed well with our mission.”
From the beginning, Safe Sitter was a popular placement for JLNO’s members and was well-received by the community, too. “We were always full and had wait lists of 20-30 kids,” adds Elizabeth.
Sessions occur on weekends at JLNO Headquarters. The program’s capacity is capped according to space and scheduling constraints. This year, classes had a maximum of 20 students and were split into smaller groups to implement social distancing measures necessary to reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure.
“The biggest challenge this year has been the uncertainty of COVID,” said Melissa Nunn, 2020 Safe Sitter Chair. “We weren’t sure if the parents would be as interested in sending their kids,” Nunn admits. Even with a shorter than usual registration window, Nunn says the demand for the program’s life skills curriculum is still strong.
The Safe Sitter Committee’s priority is to expand the program’s community reach beyond the 160 students who attended the program in June and July through strategic community partnerships. The first such partnership is with Son of a Saint, an organization which provides mentoring, service and recreational activities for young men who are growing up without fathers. Safe Sitter’s content can help young men in single-parent families feel more confident taking up childcare responsibilities, which helps their whole family. Melissa says the committee is exploring potential partnerships with similar local organizations.
Both Chairs of the Safe Sitter Committee stress that the program does more than simply teach kids safety skills. “We also taught them the business side, too,” recounts Elizabeth. “We talked to them about negotiating a fee and how to decide what to accept.”
Melissa also acknowledges the business development aspect as an important piece of the program saying, “We talk about what are good reasons to cancel a job and what are not, which is teaching them commitment.” Melissa also sees the program’s impact as framing safety for the preteens as something to think about for themselves, as well as for the children in their care. Melissa says the program’s content for participating parents allows them to create a dialogue with their children around personal safety.
“I believe in the program, and I love that the Junior League is involved,” says Melissa. JLNO’s ongoing commitment to Safe Sitter continues the program’s legacy of helping young adults become responsible members of the New Orleans community.