Jeanna Capito, ’01

Parenting is difficult. It doesn’t always come naturally. It’s O.K. to ask for help.

That’s the simple but powerful message behind Positive Parenting DuPage, says founding executive director Jeanna Capito.

Established in 2005, the initiative works to pull together a referral network of resources and organizations serving children and families, and to let parents know that help is out there. The aim is to prevent child abuse by changing the culture of parenting in DuPage County, Capito says.

“There was a time 25 or 30 years ago when a family would have called the Department of Children and Family Services hotline when they had a question about parenting. Now they fear DCFS because they think their children are going to be taken away from them. So we have this change in perception and a lack of awareness about other resources where parents can turn for support,” she says. “On top of that, there’s this perception that parenting should come naturally. We’re setting up parents to fail because they don’t know where to turn.”

“This planted the idea that if we could completely change the culture of a community around parenting support, we would have parents demanding services and education about child development. In the end we could prevent child abuse and also a lot of other not-so-great outcomes for children that don’t rise to the level of abuse. And we wanted to involve everyone, not just the high-risk or low-income families,” she explains.

Now parents can turn to Positive Parenting DuPage’s educational materials, a telephone referral line, and a web site for information, services, and resources. Positive provides no direct services to families, but serves as a coordinating body and information clearinghouse for every organization and agency—hospitals, schools, libraries, park districts, government early childhood programs, social service agencies, churches, and businesses—that has contact with young children in DuPage County. The web site offers links to nearly 700 organizations and 1,200 resources addressing parenting concerns.

Capito has established individualized working relationships with well over 100 agencies throughout the county. Together, this network helps raise public awareness of parenting support, which reduces isolation and stress for families. The goal, Capito says, is to normalize the idea of parenting support and reduce the stigma of asking for help. All across the economic spectrum, parents “should realize that, as a citizen in this community, they can demand child development and parenting support information. Then it won’t matter how much money people make or what their job is or who lives next door; they will just expect this as part of parenting in DuPage.” That’s an ambitious goal, but Capito is up for the challenge.

She earned her master’s degree in child development from Erikson in just one year and went on to launch an Early Head Start program from scratch — so successfully that just one year after launch, it passed its first federal peer review with flying colors. She has also launched and reinvigorate programs for the DuPage County Health Department, training staff to focus on child development issues and building that perspective into the department’s community health work.

When the Topfer Foundation grew interested in funding child abuse prevention efforts that went beyond direct service, Capito was tapped to serve on the team that came up with the concept for Positive Parenting DuPage and later was offered the role of executive director.

Capito has long believed in partnering with parents, and when she was ready to get her master’s, Erikson’s relationship-based approach was a perfect fit. “When I found Erikson Institute, it was a dream come true,” she says. “Here was an organization that was already teaching the things I believed and putting them into practice!” Erikson’s focus on relationship-based education is evident in the structure of Positive Parenting DuPage. “It’s a collaboration and an envoy to existing services. We didn’t build it to be a beast of a bureaucracy. We wanted this thing to be accessible to every single organization that touches the lives of children from birth to three.”