I eventually found my way to the early years children centre and was greeted yet again with lovely smiles welcoming me into the centre, the receptionist calling up saying ‘she’s here, she’s made it!’ make my way to the second floor in the lift. The centre is light and airy with corridors leading off into work rooms, parent rooms, group rooms a kitchen and a communal rotund breakout room. In the entrance there is an area where at least 20 strollers are stored.
I met Joanny Ruiz (Early Head Start Director) and Helen Davis (Director of Early Childhood Education Episcopal Social Services) who were ready to give me a tour of the centre and join their ‘orientation session’ and sit in on a ‘socialisation’. They were such a busy centre, I felt honoured to have their time and be able to witness such professional parent partnership working. They operate two different services; Home based and Centre based. Home based is family support and early years education, the home visitor (family support worker) does not necessarily got to the parents home, usually it takes place within the centre or a park if the day is nice (transportation costs covered) It’s one to one advice and education on interacting with their child and working towards goals each week. The family support workers have 12 families to do this with each week. The families sign up to this, and then meet once a month at the socialisation groups where they get together at the centre with all the other parents all following the same program.
Centre Based is daycare for early years, with additional support for parents. The families enter in on a ‘needs basis’ (similar to our eligible two’s) The families requiring further intervention whilst their children are in daycare are supported by professional ‘consultant’ services mental health, domestic violence, further education – this is a bought in service.
Centre Based runs Monday through to Thursday only, they say to their parents if you are going to make clear any day to go to appointments do it on this day. For their staff they keep Fridays for weekly peer group supervisions and reflections of the week. They will also consult academic journals reflect on practice. They may also take a profile of a child in the nursery and look at the areas of learning (similar to Early Years Foundation Stage) and discuss amongst each other best ways to move forward.
Joanny oves her Head Start regulations on engaging the parents – she ‘loves’ them! She stipulates – not all regulations, it’s just Head Starts’ because they’re the only ones who really understand the engagement process. It’s flexible and can be adapted to different working environments urban/rural. Joanny takes this all on board and will spend most of her time working with parents as voluntary members and representatives of the centre. She adds parental involvement is not tokenistic and says its her understanding of the importance of strategies being explained to the families and what they’re getting themselves involved in that drive the centre to the success it has achieved. The parents are mainly women of either Mexican or Sub Sahara Nationality.
I am welcomed into the orientation – this for registered parents who are being explained the program and what they are signing up to. They are given a manual which is translated into spanish by the director. All parents are sat with their babies listening to this being presented in both Spanish and English by the director. All the family support workers speak both English and Spanish and have once been parents at the centre.
Then Fran comes in and provides 30 minutes of song and drumming which I jump up and become involved in ( I know this bit) Fran sings mainly private day care settings but she says these are the most rewarding the way the parents begin to engage with each other after a time of consistently attending.
The whole place is hub of support. The parent classes that are offered are holistic. ‘Voice from Within’ helps parents express their experiences through poetry and learn literature at the same time as being empowered. At the end of the course a presentation is made and the families dress up in their native regality and parade up and down a cat walk for a fashion show!
The director is so enthusiastic about empowerment she has a file in the parent room on the regulations which is then adapted and broken down into another file of how these regulations are implemented into the centre for parents to read and understand. She says it’s important to make sure parents know their rights especially before their children start school.
Joanny says the most paramount aim is to have the children ready for school. Preparation for education is key and preparing children and parents helps to narrow the educational gap between poorer and more affluent areas.
I asked about problem families falling through the net at the centre and was met with quizzical expressions- if they’re on the program they don’t fall through the net – they can’t the system doesn’t allow it, the program is so watertight. Of course don’t get them wrong not everyone has access to this service, there are some families who they can’t reach, there are children going into foster care, but they do get picked up. Once they have involvement there are specialist family services which run parallel with preventative services (bit like Intense family support and children centres in the UK) Most of the referrals to the centre are parent led.
You feed them they’ll come.. If you want to attract families in, provide food. There was snacks of cheese and crackers and hot oatmeal, it was like semolina and really nice. Then after the singing we had pasta and carrots and peas. Bagged frozen peas and carrots were given out to parents to cook with at home. The kitchen stemmed off the corridor is fully functioning and leads from the group room. All of these is funded and the family support worker spend their time concentrating on making sure the signatures are on the forms. They know this service cannot be provided otherwise.
Helen was really interested in something about the UK, she asked ‘Do you get a lot of parents having their children at home because they can’t afford the hospital fees?’
After what I seen today, imagine what an added benefit the National Health Service could do for these families based on their current support network? Or is it that, it is what it is because there is no NHS? The services bought in are by default and there’s no waiting lists either.
One thing that they were very interested in was that in the UK some communities schools served do hold up to children speaking 27 different languages. I have heard that Queens is more ethically diverse and I’m going over there next Monday.