Helping Kids By Helping Moms

People and rescue workers stand at the site where a TAM airlines commercial jet crashed in Sao Paulo, Tuesday, July 17, 2007.
People and rescue workers stand at the site where a TAM airlines commercial jet crashed in Sao Paulo, Tuesday, July 17, 2007. The plane with as many 170 people aboard crashed and burst into flames in Sao Paulo after skidding off a runway that has been criticized as being too short, in a driving rain, the nation's airport authority said. (AP Photo/Marcelo Min)
AP Photo/Marcelo Min

Since babies don't come with instruction manuals, "Parenting 101" may be the next best thing, reports CBS News Correspondent Jim Axelrod.

Catherine Burton-Girardi, a nurse with the Nurse Family Partnership program in Elmira, N.Y., teaches the class to at-risk moms starting three months before their babies come and following up for two years after.

"Some people need to be taught the basics because maybe they didn't have the basics," says Burton-Girardi.

As much as it helps the mom become a focused parent, the real target is the child. It's a 20-year-old program now in 200 counties nationwide; an alternative approach to "Just Say No" – if you want at-risk kids to walk the straight and narrow, put their moms on the path first.

"The first years of life are very important," says Burton-Girardi. "A lot of things are developing at that time and when those first years start as good years, then their later years will be better."

More Information
Click here to learn more about the Nurse Family Partnership program.
What started years ago as a theory in Elmira has yielded some concrete facts. In a 15-year follow-up of the first children born into the program there was less drinking, less drug use and less crime – 54 percent fewer arrests than children from similar backgrounds whose mothers did not get the training.

"Improving health, improving care, helping families become more economically self-sufficient will, our research proves, provide better functioning children once they reach adolescence," says program developer David Olds.

Olds also has some walking, talking proof that his program works.

Tom Petros graduated second in his high-school class of 300 and is now a 3.8 student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., one of the top technical colleges in the country.

"He was high risk," says his mother, Julie Petros. "We were lucky."

"I turned out okay," says her son.

Julie Petros was one of the first moms drafted into the program. She was 18 and more prepared to party than to parent.

"They were still kids when we they had me," says Tom Petros. "I think the program helped them grow up so they could make sure I grew up a little more on the straight side."

Burton-Girardi thinks the program will not only produce more kids like Tom Petro across the country, but help create one in her own home.

"I know I am a better mom than I would have been without it," she says.

At 15, Burton-Girardi was pregnant and alone in Elmira. None of her clients can tell her the program won't help, because that's exactly where she turned to straighten her life out.

"My mom taught me all the things not to do," Burton-Girardi says. But she was able to break the cycle – a cycle her 9-year-old is well on his way to not repeating, guided by an approach his mother teaches and lives.

"I hope that he is a better person than even I am today," she says.

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