Author Archives: Julie Mainer

A Cool Breeze for Washington

It is no doubt going to be a hot summer in Washington, and the political hot air isn’t much help.  A good way for our elected leaders to “chill out” might be to reach agreement on an issue that in the past has had strong bipartisan support.  Support for early learning, particularly the extension and expansion of a current initiative that has proven to have an incredible positive return on investment, might be what is needed to put a welcome chill in the air.

In his State of the Union address, President Obama called for significant investments in preschool, and expansion of the highly successful federal home visiting initiative, called the Maternal Infant Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) initiative.  As the President noted, analysis from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis demonstrates a return on investment of up to $18 for every $1 we dedicate to these early learning strategies. 

Parents as Teachers (PAT) is one of the selected evidence based home visiting models that states have adopted to inform and engage parents as the first and most significant teachers of their young children.  In the last year alone, our Parent Educators have made nearly 1.7 million home visits with families across the nation.  A 2007 study by Edward Zigler and Judy Pfannenstiel confirms that high-quality preschool, along with parent education services such as PAT, can virtually eliminate the learning gaps between children from low-income and middle-class families. So we have a strategy that both works, and saves more than it costs. 

PAT was at first adopted by former Missouri Governor Kit Bond, a Republican.  It has since been supported by governors and legislatures of both parties, in states across the nation.  Ask any family who has benefited from PAT, and they will tell you how significant their parent educator was to them in their early years of parenting.  In addition, many of our elected leaders have had personal experience with PAT as young parents. 

The point is that early learning has bipartisan support because it works.  PAT and similar home visiting models are proven to reduce child abuse and malnutrition, identify health and learning problems, and improve the overall physical and mental health of children and mothers. When we deal with these matters early in life, it makes for a healthier nation with more effective parents and higher-achieving children.  It also costs a whole lot less to identify and treat developmental problems early, than to fix them later in life.  

Federal funding for home visiting has benefited hundreds of thousands of families in every state in the nation.  Members of Congress have an opportunity—this year—to extend and expand funding for MIECHV programs that have proven they can make a difference in the lives of children and families. 

Yes, there’s a lot of hot air rising over Washington, and there are clear differences over the budget.  But members of both parties should agree that proven interventions such as home visiting deserve continued and expanded funding.  It is not just the right thing, it is the smart thing to do.

Scott Hippert is President and CEO of Parents as Teachers National Center.

 

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I am somebody!

That was the victory cry at the De La Salle Middle School  graduation ceremony over the weekend at St. Matthew’s Catholic Church, located in the historic Ville Neighborhood in St. Louis. As a board member, my husband invited me to join him in celebrating this very significant achievement in the lives of a little more than a dozen youths who overcame challenges such as poverty, low expectations and lack of strong role models to achieve their middle school education. 

The experience was slightly different from what I remember at my own 8th grade graduation all those years ago…certainly more lively and a lot more tears from both teachers and family. It was also evident that education was not taken for granted here: every single boy and girl was moving on to a local high school, something proudly lifted up for each graduate in both the program and ceremony. 

However, there was one aspect of the evening that really stood out for me. It was what the program called “Thank you to Mothers.” It was the point in the celebration where students took a moment to give their mothers a bright yellow long stemmed carnation. And that’s when I started tearing up…seeing the look on each woman’s face as her child proudly found them in the crowd was truly a privilege. 

What it must feel like to do right by your child…to see him work hard to get his diploma, enjoying his achievements and being motivated to go even higher. Or to see your young daughter making friends, learning life-long skills and choosing a life that could quite possibly be better than your own. Don’t we all want that for our kids? 

I also wondered how each mother came to make such an insightful decision to stay engaged in her child’s schooling for better success, despite the educational and economical challenges she may be facing. Who was her mentor? What supports did she have along the way? I wondered if she heard or even benefited from Parents as Teachers. 

Like the staff and administration at De La Salle, Parents as Teachers encourages families to be engaged in every aspect of their child’s life. Whether the focus is on academics or other life successes, parents are what make the victory of any achievement meaningful for their child. 

That was pretty evident as the graduate’s eagerly sought out their mothers that night.  Each and every carnation held a wealth of meaning: thanks, mom, for not letting me slip through the cracks. Thanks for helping me be somebody!

The baby and the BlackBerry debate

In yesterday’s New York Times, the article The Risks of Parenting While Plugged In really grabbed my attention.

Why? Lately, I am fascinated with the acceleration of technology…particularly of the concept of holding your entire world in the palm of your hands. Before I got a smart phone, I barely remembered to turn on my cell phone much less text from it. Now, I turn the car around if I happen to leave that little guy on the charger at home. It changed my life!

But as time goes on, I realize some of the downsides of being “connected” all the time…in particular, there’s nowhere to hide when available 24/7.  So, six months into the “plugged in” frontier, I am working on balance.

That’s why an article that talks about the challenges of technology on parenting struck a chord. I’m sure we can all relate to the opening scenario of the 2 1/2-year-old trying to bite her mother’s leg in a desperate attempt to tear her away from her BlackBerry. If you think about it, technology vs. the family really isn’t new. Remember when TV was the mealtime culprit to family bonding time? Now we get to add lap tops and iPhones to the table. 

But for all the pros and cons, most would agree that technology does affect the way we parent, and the way we parent affects children’s development. The early years are the most vulnerable, where taking the time to observe and engage with your child is critical for understanding important developmental milestones and developing a strong relationship with your child.

So listen up parents…here’s your balance: text4baby. 

Text4baby is a new FREE mobile service to help new and expectant moms receive important health information for themselves and their babies. To sign up, you just text “BABY’ 0r “BEBE” for Spanish to 511411 or visit text4baby.org.   Moms will receive three SMS text messages each week on their cell phone with tips to help her through pregnancy and baby’s first year.

No costs are associated with this service and its a great example of how we can use technology to inform and engage parents by putting key health information directly into the hands of pregnant women and new moms.

Of pizza and Parents as Teachers

A while back I blogged about a “wonderful Parents as Teachers weekend” where I learned over pizza with my mother-in-law, Deb, about the successful establishment of the first Parents as Teachers  program in Wilson County, Tenn.  

Our casual conversation over 4 years ago about the work we both do with children and teen parents (I at the National Center here in St. Louis and she at YouthLinks in Wilson County, Tenn.) flowered into a fabulous collaboration between four different agencies that found a way to mesh together their multiple programs and philosophies to serve the families in their community. The agencies involved are the Lebanon Special School District, Wilson County Schools, Prospect, Inc., and the University of Tennessee Extension, Wilson County

On a recent visit to Nashville in March, Deb proudly handed me a DVD that the program developed for recruitment … I couldn’t help but share!

More recently, upon editing our registration mailer this week for the Parents as Teachers Conference (slated for November) I was pleased to see that Shelly Barnes from the University of Tennessee Extension will be presenting about their unique Parents as Teachers collaboration.  I’ll definitely be in attendance, so Shelly …  see you there!

Tracking trends in parent education

Recently, we did some investigative work looking into the future of parent education for a feature article in one of our newsletter publications. This seemed a natural direction to go since Parents as Teachers is celebrating its 25th birthday this year…so, what’s next? 

I thought it worth sharing a brief snapshot of what we found to reinforce the fact that families are evolving and their needs are changing, and this is happening in a world that is increasingly complex, fast-paced and demanding. 

We’ve got to keep up by working to educate ourselves about these emerging topics and be prepared with resources to help parents navigate through it all. That’s were working in the home and building quality relationships really makes a difference.

Friend, family and neighbor care: this informal care is the most nonparental source of infant and toddler care across all socioeconomic groups and is growing.

Immigration: the number of immigrants to the U.S. recently reached an all-time high of 37.5 million. According to the Census Bureau, one out of every five people living in the U.S. speaks a language other than English in the home.

The economy:  financial pressures, stress and job loss have a direct impact on families and can be particularly hard on young families that are already stretched to the limit.

Mobility: our society is increasingly mobile, with families moving with greater frequency, whether across town or across the country. This can mean distruption in the extended family, school transitions and community relationships.

Cross-over issues: healthcare and insurance coverage, nutrition, work-life balance, technology, natural disasters and war are all unique issues affecting our youngest children and their school readiness.

“Keep it professional, leave politics out of it.”

As the editor overseeing several publications for the National Center for Parents as Teachers, it is part of my job to tap into our vast field of Parents as Teachers programs and parent educators to gauge where we are in terms of providing relevant content and additional resource support.

My most recent survey fielded last fall through the Parents as Teachers News (quarterly professional resource publication) gleaned some great insights as well as a few surprises. One that stood out was the general lack of interest in advocacy…29% of respondents stated advocacy as their least topic of interest! Here are some comments:

“Too much fund development and advocacy — that’s why I don’t read [the Parents as Teachers News].
“No need to give us info on advocacy, we are already sold on the program.”
“If [a parent publication] contains info about legislative concerns, program information, etc. like the newsletter for parent educators it won’t be effective.”
“Keep it professional, leave politics out of it.”

As a communicator, it was clear to me that I’ve got some work to do.  Not only do some of my readers fail to see the critical importance of advocacy as an essential part of building viable and sustainable Parents as Teachers programs, but they also fail to see their intrigal part in it.

How about you? Do you have a clear understanding of advocacy and why it is important to Parents as Teachers?

If you do, then you understand that services supporting young families and children ARE political…critical decisions about the future of early childhood funding are being made at the local, state and federal legislative levels as we speak.  Who in your community needs to know about the benefits of Parents as Teachers?

What a wonderful Parents as Teachers weekend

It started off with a visit to St. Louis by a family member from Nashville, Tenn.

Deb works for the YouthLinks serving at-risk teens and young adults in Wilson County. About three years ago during a conversation about the work we do, I told Deb about Parents as Teachers. The model resonated with her as there was no support group like this for anyone in the county and the need was tremendous. The program would fill a viable gap in the community, she said. I later sent her a packet of information.  What a delight to hear over pizza Friday night that the simple act of sharing information led to the establishment of the first Parents as Teachers program in Wilson County!

Thanks, Deb, for getting our Parents as Teachers information into the right hands. You’re the BEST!

What else made it a Parents as Teachers weekend? I had an opportunity to talk to proud new parents on my street, Jessica and Nick. They welcomed Lydia into the world 6 weeks ago and Jessica was going back to work. Thinking she might like the support, I asked her if she heard of Parents as Teachers. She did and was thinking about joining but didn’t know how to start. After directing her to the Parents as Teachers National Center web site, I gathered some information to share with her later in the week. But Jessica beat me to it…she called that very same day and joined her Parents as Teachers program, eager to begin. 

It’s a great feeling to make those kinds of connections, knowing how new parents appreciate the support and knowledge to be the best parents they can be. It’s what we all want, right?

With the upcoming national elections, I find I have a renewed sense of excitement about Parents as Teachers and work we do here at the National Center. The random debates and friendly banter among family, friends and neighbors around this time of the year has given me the excuse to talk about Parents as Teachers and educate them about early childhood and parenting support issues, something most people my age aren’t even thinking about as they are putting their kids through college. The betterment of our families, young children and communities is everyone’s issue.

To this end, here are two pieces of information that might be useful for when you have the opportunity to share information about early childhood development and parenting support issues during this election:

Barack Obama’s Plan for Lifetime Success Through Education

McCain/Palan Early Childhood Education