When Prevention and Protection of Abused Children, Inc. (PPAC), 1570 East Moreland Blvd, opened in 1983 as a grass-roots movement, the main focus was to address the increasing problem of child abuse and neglect in the community.
In the 30 years the center has been open, the needs of the community have changed, becoming more complex and more diversified. Over time, PPAC added additional programming, integrating the curriculum of Parents Place and taking over the contract in 1990 according to executive director Raquel Mehring.
The name caught on and brought a positive connotation with it and on Jan. 1, 2014, the center officially renamed itself Parents Place Inc.
"It was a very positive, well-known name. Quite honestly a lot of the court orders and professionals in the community just knew us as Parents Place so it was an easy change to make," Mehring said. "The 30 years that we've been here we are continuing to thrive and make sure families know we are here to support them. We're hoping the name change puts us out there in a bigger broader sense that we're just here to help and support, there's nothing attached to it except assistance."
The wording of the mission statement also got an update in 2014 but remains relatively the same as "strengthening families and protecting children through prevention, intervention and education in Southeastern Wisconsin"
The center protects by offering supervised visitation that may stem from abuse and neglect to divorce or domestic violence. The organization provides social workers and a safe place for children to visit with noncustodial parents while professional staff can also offer education, documentation, intervention and even courtroom testimony.
Much of the prevention comes from social workers who can help parents with general needs that can range in difficulty. Mehring points out that this has become challenging in her 20 years with the center because many cases have become about meeting basic needs.
"The changes would be the need. The client needs are definitely more complicated," Mehring said. "Their physical needs are just trying to get met. The workforce comes into play and people are not able to provide their kids with housing, food. So we're facing that on top of trying to get them skills and education on parenting."
Parents Place also offers a community education piece and a born learning program which allows parents to join support groups, take classes and attend workshops that focus on major parenting topics like anger management, bullying, self esteem and positive discipline.
"We realize families come from all types of family situations so it's hard to just put out a blanket. So this is all about what you come to the table with. What are your strengths, weaknesses and how can we work on those and move forward so our families are healthier, safer and happier," Mehring said.
Mehring acknowledged that over time it's become more important to offer classes to parents coping with children's disabilities and that attention deficit disorder has become more prominently diagnosed. The organization tailors classes specifically to those parents as resources.
Fund Development Assistant Emily Outcalt said that on the teen side she has also seen an increased need for resources dealing with bullying and self-esteem issues. For the kids, she said, they've had to make rules about technology.
"This is definitely a barometer for the community. You can see the generational trends," Outcalt said.
Still, Outcalt said that the classes are tailored to the groups of students to match their age and needs.
"The classes are small so you can really tailor it to each child. There's a curriculum we follow but it's really about the connection you make with the kids and the parents getting support. It's really multidimensional how families benefit."
Mehring said one of her favorite parts of the job is seeing the children from early in her career becoming the parents.
"We have families I saw come in when they were young and now they're parents and bringing their kids here. It's good they are identifying there is a need. It doesn't have to be severe. There's no parent that's perfect and we can all use help," Mehring said. "Just knowing there is a place like this available that you can call for questions or come in for a support group or play group. There's a lot of opportunities here where kids can flourish."
Parents Place has a unique funding formula that includes half of the budget from the county as well as state and federal money, private grants and foundations. However, fundraising is still needed to continue to provide the array of services that Parents Place Inc. offers.
One of those fundraisers is the annual gala. Parents Place will hold its 2014 Gala at the Legend at Merrill Hills on Friday, Feb. 28. Fore more information on the "Strong and Safe at Parents Place" event, visit www.ppacinc.org.