Right, I’m going to stop going into Head Start centres in the US and saying ‘we patterned Sure Start which is now Children’s Centre’s from your Head Start in 1996!’ and we’d like to know how to better our engagement with families because I believe if you have gained the trust of a ‘hard to reach’ families they are more likely to open up in expressing their needs therefore building positive relationship in helping them out of poverty. Yes, this bit they understand.
The family service specialists then use the context of their Head Start programs to compare our Children Centres for the rest of the conversation. You can see them getting more and more confused. In essence Head Start, Early Head Start and Sure Start (children’s centres) share the same philosophy. Both offer integrated services to deliver education, health/mental health, nutrition, disability services and parental involvement /family engagement to the most vulnerable and neediest families in the local area and in particular preparing the child so they are ready for school.
The programs are offered as centre based day care or home based program. Parents are outreached at places where parents gather, venues, parks, schools and the service is offered to them. They draw the families in with the programs which include free child care in exchange for guidance and teaching on their child’s development. Then continuing to gather the same families at groups that respond to what they have requested they in their original survey when they signed up.
Mary Ford Family Home Based educator say’s Parents want to know what their children are learning, they want to know what they are doing whilst there here at the centre. That’s really important to them.
Home visits are done once a week for each parent for an ongoing period. Two visits a day 10 visits a week. Home based educators conduct ‘play in the home’ sessions. These last for 90 minutes a time with child and the parents. The family worker explains the value of play and the development stages that their child is going through whilst you are playing with them. Centre based programs have 130 children that’s 130 children and families they serve teaching them and bringing the families together once a month to attend groups on things they’ve said their interested in when they signed up to the program. So as well as the parents gathering and learning about their child’s development they are learning CPR or how to do a CV. 50% of the 130 families attend to these each month.
This reminded me of when I did the family outreach training 4 years ago, we had one afternoon of EYFS (Early years foundation stage) training. I think we tried to implement that when we could at play groups, but Mary does this everyday on home visits the rest of the time is taken driving round and writing up the visits. We take a drive to her first home visit of the day. It is a 20 mile round trip and takes us from 11 to 1.15 to complete it.
Dad is waiting and lets us in. It is a spacious detached house with attention to furnishing – housing in North Carolina is mostly detached houses with back yards and trees around . It reminded me of driving round the Home Counties of England, repetitive long roads driving past lakes and lots of trees. And yes it’s hot again.
They one boy. He knows we’re here and is excited to be learning and playing. Mary gets out her plastic sheet and lays it on the rug. The boy sits down expectantly and we play with sticklebricks. Mary expresses the importance of the type of play his son is using, she says it’s symbolic play, he is using this brick to imagine a car. Dad then gets into a conversation about how long that lasts and if its okay to still pretend something is something else when your an adult. Mary laughs out loud and says oh my goodness you better start worrying! We laugh but it does open up ideas of how our brain develops. Mary tells him that this play stage is important for his son as it is a process that allows him to build upon (using the bricks to illustrate) with more play experiences to help him socially and cognitively. Mary doesn’t claim to know everything and helps to offer advice on play when she can. She always tells the parent they are their children’s main educators.
It was lovely to be part of this visit, it was fun and Mary brought a wide range of play resources, her boot is full of boxes! We played with rice and pouring it back and forward through funnels and measuring cups. The boy was enthralled with this and fully engaged. Dad stayed by joining in. Mary says they have to learn there’s no point in me going round and me just playing and then I go and they don’t know how to do it.
She says her job is to make the families self sufficient. She says it’s like I’m teaching them how to ride a bike. At first I put the stabilisers on (that’s me holding their hand) then we take the stabilisers off and I’m only holding the back of the seat. Then I start to slowly pull away pushing them off saying there you go you’ve got it! It really quite amazing watching the engagement between the child and the parent. Mary says every day is a reward because I know what they have learnt. We leave after the 90 minutes and Mary hands the parents progress forms for what they have to work on through the week before the next visit. Dad is really interested, and tells me this is a great thing that they do!.
I ask what about if a parent has got bio polar and your trying to do play in the home. ‘Oh well’ Mary says there is no way in gonna get her to sit down and partake in the activities if she can’t even get off the sofa.. No we need to sort that out before we start and that will be the thing that I spend my time doing on every visit until were at a place where she or he is ready to engage fully understand why they’re doing this.
The afternoon was spent talking to family specialists which I’m saving for my next entry let’s say it’s got something to do with my opening sentence.
Do you feed them?