In an effort to shed light on the responsibility of parenting to teens, Hillsdale’s own Child Abuse and Protection Awareness organization brings the RealCare baby program to local classrooms.
Aligning with each high school’s specific curriculum, CAPA loans robot baby simulators to individual teens for a weekend, giving them the opportunity to have extensive hands-on experience in caring for infants.
These RealCare babies weigh eight pounds and are loaded with extensive sensors that check to see if the student provides proper care for the baby.
The settings on the baby allow for the student to experience as many real life circumstances as possible. The babies need to be changed, fed, and burped on a fairly frequent basis, and will even wake the student in the middle of the night for attention. These advanced sensors will even notice if the baby has been left in a car seat for extended periods of time.
The simulator babies come at a high price of about $1,000, which includes accessories such as a carseat and diaper bag loaded with all the supplies a student might need.
Christie Campbell, executive director of CAPA, receives computer reports of the student’s interactions with the baby at the end of each weekend. Those reports will tell her the number of things that the student missed, in addition to any reports of abuse. The babies will shut down under abuse of any kind. If the student does not support the baby’s head at all times, abuse may be detected.
While the RealCare baby assignment directs its efforts toward child abuse prevention, the teenage pregnancy prevention factor also comes into play.
“I think it gets in a little bit of both,” Campbell said. “The students get a very real life experience and it is not an easy thing.”
Debbie Price, consumer sciences instructor at Reading High School, teaches a parenting class that focuses on essential education elements for parenting, since teens have often not been brought up in the best environment for parenting.
Price said the RealCare baby assignment is more about understanding the care involved in raising a child, and teaching young adults about this life-altering responsibility.
Price has been teaching this unit for about 30 years. Before CAPA came in about 15 years ago and donated the babies, they would send students home with eggs or sacks of flour for the weekend instead.
15 year old, sophomore Juliet Faby said she was kind of scared when she received her baby boy for the weekend.
“I don’t want to not support it, especially because this is a real life simulation and it’s worth a lot of points,” Faby said.
Alli Mischke, also a sophomore, agreed with Faby.
“I’m excited, but not excited about the crying because I like sleep,” Mischke said.
The students at Reading High School cared for their babies well, averaging about 88 percent. Campbell said that CAPA places their goal at 80 percent, and most of the time the classes meet the goal.
At the end of the long weekend of childcare, Campbell said that most students are quite eager for her to take the babies from them.
“I find a lot of the students tire of the baby at the end of the weekend, ” Campbell said. “They say things like, ‘You can have these back.’”