Helping Families on the Palouse
Leanna Keleher is passionate about helping parents. Her undergraduate coursework at the University of Idaho has helped her discover how to turn that passion into a career.
Keleher will graduate in December with bachelor’s degrees in child and youth development from the University of Idaho’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences as well as sociology from the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences.
Those degrees will help Keleher continue her quest to help families on the Palouse.
College wasn’t on Keleher’s radar when she graduated from high school in Ketchikan, Alaska, in 2008. She worked as a tour guide for the next four years until she decided to follow her parents, who moved to Lewiston following her father’s retirement from the U.S. Coast Guard.
It wasn’t until Keleher met her now partner, Julia Keleher, who works at U of I as the director of the LGBTQA office, that her eyes were opened to the possibility of higher education.
“Before I met her, I didn’t think that college was something that I wanted to do or would be good at,” Keleher said. “Through meeting her friends I learned a little more about what college was and what the university was so it got my gears turning for coming to college.”
Keleher initially enrolled at U of I with a goal of working with children. After visiting with her advisor she realized parent education aligned more with her interests. Specifically, how she can help parents through education to reduce the instances of abuse or neglect.
“It’s my personal theory that when abuse and neglect happens, it happens from not having enough education,” Keleher said. “I’m really focused on relationships between children and parents and parent education.”
Reducing Traumatic Birth Experiences
In 2017, Keleher joined a research team led by U of I sociology Assistant Professor Kristin Haltinner focused on traumatic birth experiences of women on the Palouse and how those experiences affected the mother’s ability to bond with their child. Keleher was pregnant with her daughter Ramona at the beginning of the project and ended up experiencing a traumatic birth herself.
A two-vessel umbilical cord meant Ramona wasn’t getting as much blood and nutrients and Keleher’s doctors didn’t want her to go past 40 weeks.
“They brought me in for an induction and that didn’t work and I got bullied into a C-section,” Keleher said. “I wasn’t given a lot of information, I didn’t feel like I had a lot of choice. I never went into labor. For three months afterward I was dealing with these feelings and it took me a lot longer to bond with my daughter and get back on my feet than it would have been if I had been able to go into labor or have a choice about when I had a C-section.”
Preliminary findings made by the research team suggest traumatic experiences are often connected to failures in communication between medical staff and women in labor. In some instances, women don’t know what their choices are and don’t know where to find the information they need.
“What we are narrowing in on, is that there seems to be a big component of lack of compassionate communication from the medical practitioner side,” Keleher said. “We’re thinking, how can we change training for medical practitioners. When they say something that is lacking compassion, it’s often unintentional. So, if we provide them with that education, when you say this it affects people, then we can change the outcome for these women so they heal faster, they can bond faster and get on their feet faster.”
The team also hopes to implement an experiment at a local hospital in the future, where a nurse would be available during the birthing process whose only job is to provide information to the mother. The nurse would talk the mother through the details of medical procedures that they are experiencing, including Cesarean sections.
“We want to have all of the help laid out for them, so if they do go through this experience they have an array of tools they can choose from,” Keleher said.
Providing Emergency Care
Keleher plans to enroll in U of I’s family and consumer sciences master’s program to continue her research on the unintentionality of abuse in parents, with the ultimate goal of starting an emergency respite childcare facility on the Palouse. This facility would provide parents and caregivers with short-term childcare services to offer temporary relief.
“I really want to intervene on those times with women who have post-partum depression, post-partum anxiety or even post-partum psychosis,” Keleher said. “Basically I want to keep children safe and help the mother before anything happens.”
Keleher also wants to offer parenting classes and connect parents with other available resources to make their lives easier. The respite childcare facility will be the focus of her master’s program.
“In my graduate work, what I want to do is interview other programs and find out what works for them, what their program looks like and hopefully laying the groundwork for starting something here on the Palouse,” Keleher said. “Oftentimes you hear people say that you don’t get a manual with your baby. So, I want to kind of give them a manual in a sense.”
Article to Amy Calabretta, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
Published in December 2018