VALDOSTA -- Eleven-year-old Stephen Stafford recently discovered a way to combine his love of children with his desire to make some cash -- babysitting.

"I believe boys can make good babysitters, too," said the Lowndes Middle School sixth-grader.

To perfect his childcare skills, Stafford registered for South Georgia Medical Center's Safe Sitter program. Friday, he and about a dozen other area adolescents graduated from the instructional program.

"They have been a very energetic group," said Andrea Cole, Community Health Promotion coordinator. "They have been very eager to learn."

Briana Johnson, 11, a sixth-grader at St. Johns Catholic School, registered for the program because she wanted to know what to do in case of an emergency.

"I really like kids, and I enjoy babysitting," she said. "But I need to know how to handle myself if something goes wrong."

Renee Parker, mother of two daughters with a third child on the way, said she registered her oldest daughter, Adrianne, for the program.

"It is paramount that she know what to do in case of an emergency," Parker said. "It only takes a moment for something to go wrong."

Through the program, 12-year-old Adrianne gained the confidence she needed to act professionally and rationally when babysitting. The homeschooled seventh-grader said the program really takes the guesswork out of the job by teaching her crisis management skills and how to be proactive.

Safe Sitter improves the welfare of young children by increasing the availability of young adolescents ages 11 to 13 instructed in safe and nurturing child care techniques. Founded in 1980 by Indianapolis pediatrician Dr. Patricia A. Keener, the program was created after Keener's colleague's 18-month-old daughter choked to death while under an adult sitter's care.

The Safe Sitter program emphasizes the magnitude of the responsibility a young adolescent accepts when babysitting.

Safe Sitter curriculum includes instruction in Babysitting as a Business, Success on the Job, Child Care Essentials, Safety for the Sitter, Injury Management, Preventing Problem Behavior, Care of Choking Infant, Care of Choking Child and Rescue Breathing.

Stafford left the medical center Friday afternoon confident in his ability to properly care for and nurture a child in his care.

"It is important to know what to do no matter what situation should arise," he said.

For information on South Georgia Medical Center's Safe Sitter program, please call 259-4141.

To contact reporter Jessica Pope, please call 244-3400, ext. 255.

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