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Social agency to aid 180 more families
Research shows that 80 percent of a child's brain is developed by age 3. The more interaction with positive learning children have between birth and 5 years old, the more likely they are to succeed in school, less likely to receive failing grades or be retained and more likely to advance into college and obtain successful careers, according to experts.
They also tend to be healthier, have better language, math and social skills and better relationships with classmates and demand less from the public service system, experts say.
Based on this research, Easter Seal Blake Foundation has expanded its in-home visitation program to include an additional 180 families.
The foundation initially served children with special needs, but the free program is now open to children with “typical” development.
The First Things First State Board, with the local regional council's recommendation, approved a $616,040 grant to the foundation to fund the Yuma Parents as Teachers (YPAT) program.
It provides child development information to expectant parents and parents of children age birth to 5 years old. The intent is to give families tools to help their children develop to their full capability to succeed.
“The early years of life are crucial to a child's development,” said Nohemi Ortega, YPAT supervisor. “Our goal is to provide parents the tools, support and encouragement they need to help their children learn, grow and develop to realize their full potential in life.”
She pointed to research that shows children who are unprepared when they enter school — and therefore more likely to drop out — cost states thousands of dollars more in remedial or special education, social welfare and related costs.
She also noted that stress can cause brain damage and children who experience traumas and illnesses during their early years can also experience long-term damage, planting the seeds for problems later in life.
YPAT provides personal visits of 60-90 minutes in the convenience of the home.
The lengths of the visits depend on the needs of the family. They could be on a weekly, monthly or semi-monthly basis. The hours are also flexible and can be after 5 p.m. when parents return home from work.
However, program participation takes commitment. “A parent needs to be there. We don't just go and work with the child,” Ortega noted.
Parent-child interaction activities are tailored to each child.
“Parents establish the goals. What do you want for your child?” Ortega said.
“Say you have a 20-month-old child. There are milestones the child should have reached, a certain amount of words in the vocabulary. The child should have learned to hold a crayon or pencil and should be drawing.”
But if the child has failed to reach the expected milestones, parents are taught age-specific interactive strategies to help them prepare the child for kindergarten. “And they don't have to spend tons of money,” Ortega noted.
For example, the child could develop problem-solving skills through a homemade bowling game using empty water bottles and a ball made out of yarn or scraps of paper. The child learns how to follow rules and new skills such as aiming.
Literacy education is also high on the list during the home visits. Families are taught to make their own books out of construction paper and Ziploc bags, which allows them to change the pictures and pages as the children grow.
And visitors are sure to carry plenty of books with them, which are popular with kids.
“It takes about two weeks to build their trust, a little longer if they're special needs. But after a month, the child is ready for you and they want to know what's in the bag,” Ortega said.
But the program is more than just about learning; it's also about the family's overall well-being. The foundation assesses what other resources the parents and children might need for a healthy household.
For example, Ortega noted, “what do they need in terms of finances, therapy (to deal with stress) or whatever they might need?”
With this in mind, vision and hearing screenings are conducted every six months. Families are connected with resources and community services beyond what the foundation can provide, such as assistance with utilities and helping parents earn their GED.
Families are also provided with opportunities for socialization. “We call it Group Connection. Kids socialize, parents get to know other parents with kids the same age,” Ortega explained.
The foundation invites experts to talk about various topics that interest parents, such as discipline, infant therapy, emotional coaching for parents, nutrition, preparing healthy snacks and how to get kids involved in making meals and snacks.
Ortega has witnessed remarkable improvements in children after three months in the program. “Development is happening at 100 miles per hour. Kids who had no vocabulary now know 10 to 15 words, some who weren't walking are now walking or starting to crawl.
“It's so rewarding.”
Easter Seals Blake Foundation is located at 1060 S. 5th Ave. in Yuma. For more information, contact Ortega at email@example.com or 276-9225.
Mara Knaub can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6856. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSMaraKnaub or on Twitter at @YSMaraKnaub.