In memory of Mike Turner                                                        May 2015
The Founding of PHP
- by Mike Turner



Dear Friend,

It is with great sadness that I tell you that our co-founder, Mike Turner, passed away last week on April 30 at the age of 90.  In 1971 Mike partnered with Joan Wheeler, a nurse and board member of Parents’ and Children’s Services where Mike was Clinical Director, to establish the first Parents Anonymous support group in Massachusetts.  The novel idea that vulnerable parents could help one another fired his imagination. He saw the redemptive power of peer support as something to be treasured and harnessed.
In 2004, we asked Mike to reflect on how the first group got started. The article that he wrote for the Fall, 2004 newsletter is reprinted below.
Mike was also very proud of starting a 24-hour helpline in 1979 called the Parental Stress Line. Since then, thousands of parents have called and been helped by a trained volunteer. If you wish to make a gift in Mike’s memory that will help us keep his vision alive, click here for instructions.
Mike and Joan are now both gone. But their spirit lives on through the parents who seek help and the volunteers and staff at Parents Helping Parents who respond.

Randall Block
Executive Director
The Founding of Parents Helping Parents
- by Mike Turner
The history of Parents Helping Parents began in l968 when I began attending weekly meetings of the “Trauma X Team” at Children’s Hospital.  At these meetings doctors, nurses and social workers discussed children who had come to the hospital with questionable injuries in order to determine possible child abuse and to make plans for helping them and their parents.  During the next three years I attended these meetings, and became convinced that many of the injuries could have been prevented had the parents been offered earlier support.  One instance made a particular impact on me: a mother visited the emergency room 30 times in a six-month period, complaining that her baby was driving her crazy due to what appeared to be normal childhood problems such as colds, crying, sleeplessness.  The doctors and nurses reassured the mother that there was nothing physically wrong with her child, and she would have to be patient because the child was going through normal developmental stages.  No one noticed the mother’s desperation.  On the 31st visit to the emergency room, the child was admitted with physical injuries caused by the mother.
The incident convinced me that there were probably many other parents who could not directly express their fear of losing control over their anger and frustration with their children. For these parents help usually came too late, often after an abusive incident, and was more often designed to punish rather than help the parents.  Many social workers shared these concerns and formed a group called “Parents Advocates” to raise public awareness about the problem and to promote supportive preventive programs for parents.
My first awareness of the existence of a self-help program for such parents occurred in 1971 when I met Dr. Ray Helfer who was completing the book “Helping the Family of the Battered Child”  in which he talked about “Mothers Anonymous” a self-help program started by Jolly K. and Leonard Lieber in California.  It sounded like a great idea and I got in touch with Jolly K who sent me some mimeographed material.  Armed with this material, I set out to start a group in Boston.  I enlisted the help of Joan Wheeler (a Board member of Parents and Children’s Services, where I worked) to help with publicity, recruitment of parents, and the co-leadership of the group.   By this time Jolly K had changed the name of her organization from “Mothers Anonymous” to “Parents Anonymous”, and we followed suit. At this time there were no groups in New England, nor to my knowledge on the East Coast.
Our initial recruitment efforts were disappointing.  Many parents who came to our early meetings were afraid of us.  Some walked out abruptly when they found out that Joan (who was a nurse) and I had professional training.  Sometimes callers asked if we would take their children away from them. When we told them that we would not, the next question often asked was whether we supplied baby-sitting!  Members came intermittently, so that it was difficult to get the group to jell.  The situation improved markedly when, after some positive publicity, a small but steady core group formed.
A true breakthrough occurred with the arrival of Cassie S., our first parent leader.  Cassie had returned home from the hospital after a serious medical condition, to find that a homemaker assigned to care for her child had severely neglected the child and the house.  In her overwhelming state of despair, Cassie could not cope with the incessant crying of her 3-year-old who was severely asthmatic, and struck out against him to the extent that he required medical attention.  Following several interviews with a psychiatrist who immediately recognized her intelligence and down-to-earth sense of humor, she readily agreed to join our group, and established herself as an effective contributing member.
As Cassie’s family situation settled down she began to take an active part in the group’s management.  At first she took on the responsibility of calling new members because they preferred talking to another parent rather than a “professional.”  Later she made public presentations in order to share her experiences and the help she had received through our group.  One of the high points was a simulated interview we presented at a Children’s Advocates Symposium, where she held an audience of 350 people spellbound as she recounted her story in a way that bridged the emotional gap between professionals and parents.  Sometime later Cassie and I wrote a paper entitled “Parents Anonymous: Reflections on the Development of a Self-Help Group”.
By 1979 the Boston Group was well-established and had become a resource for the new chapters that sprang up in around New England.  When the Federal Government allocated small grants to start state-wide organizations,  I decided that the most logical organization for setting this up in Massachusetts was the Office for Children (OFC) due to its the grass roots coverage throughout the state and its commitment to prevention.  Because of the close relationship which we had forged over the years, OFC readily agreed to become the sponsoring organization.  Through its sponsorship, Parents Anonymous of Massachusetts was established and Cassie became its first Information and Referral staff member.  Although we changed our name to “Parents Helping Parents” in 1999, our mission to provide support to parents who want to prevent or stop abusive behavior remains the same as it was more than thirty years ago
Making a gift in Mike Turner’s Memory

If you wish to make a gift by credit card through PHP’s secure web site, please click here.
If you wish to send a check, please make it out to:
Parental Stress Line or Parents Helping Parents
108 Water Street
Watertown, MA 02472

  • $600 will pay the Parental Stress Line telephone bill for one month;
  • $100 will send 500 brochures to a maternity hospital for parents of newborns;
  • $25 will pay for child care during a parent support group meeting.
Unless you instruct us otherwise, we will inform Mike’s family of your gift without disclosing the amount.