EAST LOS ANGELES : Classes Help Repair Family Problems

Licensed marriage, family and child counselor Elise Nickel hadn’t been in a classroom for 10 years and knew she needed to learn more ways to tackle family problems, “not only for my own children but for the parents that I counsel.”

So she enrolled in Saturday classes in Cal State Los Angeles’ Parent Educator Certificate Program and was one of its first eight graduates April 21.

Nickel said the classes helped her learn about the stress a family experiences with a developmentally disabled child, the strong bonds of gang members and the problems pregnant teens face. “I had a lot of experiences that I wouldn’t have had any other place,” she said. The Parent Educator Certificate Program, offered through the university’s Continuing Education Program, is open to anyone with a minimum of an associate degree, and targets professionals in nursing, teaching, religion and family therapy, said program coordinator Linda Hahn.

Parenting classes are not required to be taught by certified professionals, she said, but that may change as the demand for qualified teachers in the field increases.

Most of those who graduated April 21 work with families as teachers, social workers, therapists and law-enforcement officers, said teacher and counselor Martha Serrano-Lujan.


She works at the East Los Angeles Systems of Care for the Mental Health Department, focusing on children with developmental disabilities. A former marriage encounter teacher, Serrano-Lujan emphasized the importance of keeping the marriage intact to best help the children through tough times.

“Parents come apart at the seams and don’t know how to deal with (problems), not only with the child, but with themselves,” she said.

When a child gets in trouble, parents often are left wondering what happened and find themselves at odds trying to solve the problem.

“The problem is that they’re not communicating,” Serrano-Lujan said. “One of the core areas we teach is (the importance of) communication between the parents.”

She said parents need to become aware that children sometimes pit one parent against the other, and that a united front works better than if the parents are in disagreement.

Serrano-Lujan believes the stigma of families seeking help has faded somewhat, leaving the door open to better understanding. “A lot of parents end up divorced. Some parents need the support to know that they are not alone,” she said.

Classes in the program start every fall and spring and take 1 1/2 years to complete. An informational meeting for the fall quarter is scheduled Sept. 10. Tuition varies, but one class, Family Dynamics and Parenting, costs $364. Scholarships are available.

Cal State Los Angeles is at 5151 State University Drive.

Information: (213) 343-5964.