Safe Sitter

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Indianapolis, Ind.
(800) 255-4089

Objective: Improve the welfare of young children by increasing the number of young adolescents instructed in safe child-care techniques.

In a Nutshell: Safe Sitter is a national organization that grew out of a training program to help youths become safe baby sitters. The program, which has been implemented at hundreds of sites, teaches rescue skills, basic first aid and nurturing, safe child-care techniques. For example, the Daviess County Family YMCA in Washington, Ind., conducts Safe Sitter trainings whenever there is enough interest among members, usually each fall. “More and more, you have brothers and sisters taking care of other brothers and sisters,” notes program director Jill Cecil, director of the Safe Sitter program there.

Where It Happens: The location of the program depends on each city’s affiliate. Many of the training sites are in hospitals, YMCAs, churches or schools. In Indiana, for example, 46 of the 89 Safe Sitter training sites are in medical centers or hospitals, and 20 are in youth programs, including 12 YMCAs.

Who Started It and Who Runs It: Indianapolis pediatrician Dr. Patricia Kenner founded the organization in 1980 as a result of a tragedy. An 18-month-old child of a nurse whom Kenner worked with choked to death while under the care of an adult sitter. “If an adult sitter didn’t know what to do to rescue a child, imagine what an adolescent doesn’t know,” says Safe Sitter’s executive director, Sally Herrholz.

Obstacles: When Kenner started the program at her child’s school, she did not specify the age group she was seeking. On the first day she drew 50 kids, ages 9 to 16.

“I learned that you can really only have six to eight students per instructor to make sure that the kids are listening and the instructor is in control,” Kenner says. She received grants to help hire staff and facilitated the development of more Safe Sitter sites by hosting regional workshops to train people outside the Indianapolis area.

Cost: The national organization’s annual budget is $800,000. The Gerber Foundation in Fremont, Mich., was an original contributor, and Safe Sitter has continued support from the Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment, but the majority of its revenue comes from fees for training materials and training of adult staff at Safe Sitter sites.

Youth Served: The program is designed for 11- to 13-year-old boys and girls. Herrholz says more girls than boys participate in the program. The organization says more than 350,000 youth have completed the course.

Youth Turn-On: “Kids love the feeling of being self-empowered,” Herrholz says. “The skills they learn give them confidence.” Safe Sitter graduates receive a card stating that they’ve completed the program.

Youth Turn-Off: “Kids do complain that they would like more instructional time, but people lead busy lives, and you have to follow schedules” Herrholz says.

Research Shows: Herrholz says Safe Sitter asks trainers to tell them about noteworthy actions by youths who have gone through Safe Sitter training to help the national staff choose a “sitter of the year.” The organization has documented more than 125 cases where program graduates have used their training to save lives. Most of those actions took place outside of baby-sitting situations.