Neighboring Notable: Parenting expert says she learned from the best

HICKORY — When it comes to parenting, Inga Derr learned from the best – her mother and grandparents.

And while most people do learn how to raise children from the examples set by their own parents, not everyone has the best example. Some folks need help to learn great parenting skills.

That’s where Derr comes in. She is the parenting program coordinator for Catawba County Department of Social Services. She coordinates parent education services, including the “Nurturing Parenting Program” that is designed to reduce child abuse and neglect among participating families.

She describes it as a 15-to-16-week intensive group program for parents and families that helps address the family dynamic and bring them to a healthy place. Referrals for the program come from the child welfare system, she said.

“I tell them we’re parents in progress,” Derr said.

The Nurturing Parenting Program is to prevent children being removed from the home and to try to help put children that have been placed in foster care back with the parents.

Since July 2006, the program has graduated 165 parents and affected 196 children, according to information from social services.

Derr said she doesn’t expect perfection, saying people don’t do different because they don’t know different and everyone parents from a familiar place.

Derr’s familiar place is her mother, Ponetta Hull, a teacher in Catawba County.

“I think my mom is my role model and my idol,” Derr said.

Derr, 40, said her mother is tenacious, vivacious and always busy. In addition to still teaching, her mother was always involved in her children’s lives and always volunteered at their schools and extra-curricular activities, Derr said.

Derr’s mother made a point to make time for her daughters and let them know she loved them. Derr said her mother always put a note in with her lunch or some other special thing as she went off to school. Even when Derr was in college, Hull was the mother who sent care packages for no special reason.

Like Derr, Hull was a single parent who raised Derr and her sister, Tabith. Derr has an 8-year-old daughter, Sage.

Derr is the older of Hull’s two daughters and, because she is the oldest, she always felt she had to be perfect.

Having her daughter taught Derr she doesn’t have to be perfect. She and her daughter say to each other in the morning, “Do your best and God will do the rest.”

Derr grew up in Hickory and graduated from Hickory High School. She moved away for college and graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill with a master’s degree in strategic leadership.

And Chapel Hill is where she stayed until about four years ago, when she decided to move back to Catawba County for job opportunities and to be closer to family.

She was always career-oriented and never imagined herself as a parent. And while she still has goals for her career – she wants to get a doctoral degree and teach at the university level – her daughter is her main priority.

Learning to be a great parent means learning how to take care of yourself as well as your children, she said. If your needs aren’t met, your kids suffer in the meantime, Derr said.

Derr said about 70 percent of the parenting groups she coordinates and teaches are there because the abuse and neglect were cyclical. The others come from great families but have just made poor choices, she said.

While Derr has a great support system as a parent, others do not. She told about one of the parents who was having medical issues but really had no one who she could call on to help her out.

In dealing with parents in the program, Derr said she has learned to put any bias and prejudices aside and take herself out of the equation. That makes it easier to help people transform and come to a place of self-sufficiency, she said.

“I think we all desire to become great parents,” Derr said.

If you want to help the program, donations of money, meals/snack/drinks or incentive prizes for the families that participate in the programs are needed. Contact Derr at Catawba County Department of Social Services at 695-4431 or by e-mail at iderr@catawbacountync.gov . The mailing address is P.O. Box 669, Newton, NC 28658.

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