MOUNTAIN HOME, Duchesne County — K.C. Mulcare readily admits that being a parent is the hardest, but most rewarding job she's ever had.
The 28-year-old's day typically begins around 6:30 a.m. when one of her four daughters usually wakes up. Only the oldest, 6-year-old Monique, attends school. That means Mulcare is home all day with Destiney, 4; Nevaeh, 3; and 2-year-old Tatianna while her husband goes to work at an oilfield supply company.
"They're a handful," Mulcare said, watching the girls put together puzzles in the front room of the family's home.
"It's overwhelming and it's stressful," she added. "I use the Family Support Center when I need a break."
Started in 1977 by the Junior League of Salt Lake City and the Utah Association for Children's Therapy, the Family Support Center program was set up to provide "short-term crisis and respite care" for children who were in danger of being neglected or abused.
The free 24/7 crisis nursery service gives parents like Mulcare a place to bring their children when they need to take a breather, go to a doctor's appointment or handle other family emergencies. It is still a cornerstone of all 15 nonprofit centers now operating from Logan to Cedar City, according to Janet Row, president of the Utah Association of Family Support Centers.
"We want to prevent child abuse from happening," Row said. "We also just want to help families and support them in any way we can because not all families have support systems."
A former child protective services worker with the state Division of Child and Family Services, Row has seen firsthand what can happen when parents are overstressed or don't have the tools they need to cope. The center she directs in the Uintah Basin offers parenting classes and other services in addition to the crisis nursery.
"Every child is different and you may need different skills to deal with that child," Row said.
"We want to prevent child abuse from happening. We also just want to help families and support them in any way we can because not all families have support systems."
Some of the centers also offer in-home family mentoring, counseling for individuals and families, classes on potty training, family blending and anger management, and support groups for adults who were molested as children.
Mulcare enrolled in parenting classes at the Uintah Basin center in Roosevelt about a year ago. Her goal, she said, was to find a way to address her girls' misbehavior and occasional tantrums without resorting to physical punishment.
"My parents believed in spanking," Mulcare said, "I don't. If you do (spank kids), it hurts them a lot more than we think."
With her new parenting skills — and the ability to take time for herself when she needs it — Mulcare knows she is working to be the best mom she can be for her children.
"I'm not so frustrated with my children," she said. "They're a blessing. I love them to death."
Family Support Centers around the state are holding activities on April 26 to celebrate Child Abuse Awareness Month. For information about those activities, visit utahfamilysupport.org.