FIRC’s Families United home visitation program pairs new parents with educators
Home Visitation Program
All parents with children ages 0-5 are eligible.
For more information, contact Noelle Sivon at (970) 262-3888 or NoelleS@summitfirc.org.
The first few times Crowley Pierce met Gabriela Castro, he didn’t interact but ran away and refused to speak to her. When he saw the family counselor this Tuesday, however, the very first thing the 3-year-old did was run up and give her a hug.
Castro is part of Crowley’s life thanks to Families United, a home visitation program provided by the Family and Intercultural Resource Center (FIRC). The program is free for parents of children newborn to 5 years old. In the past, parents had to go onto a waiting list to participate, but now the list is down to zero and FIRC is inviting parents to take advantage of the program.
EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT
While there are a handful of program options in Summit County related to early childhood development, the FIRC Families United program is the only one that has no requirements for entry beyond age of the child.
The program relies on the Parents As Teachers curriculum, developed in 1981 by a Midwestern organization of the same name and now with national and international affiliates. All of FIRC’s parent educators receive training and certification through the program.
In addition to using Parents As Teachers curriculum and materials, FIRC’s parent educators make monthly visits to clients’ homes. Visits include discussion on curriculum, progress and challenges with the parents as well as interactions with the children.
“What our goal is, is to work with parents specifically to promote them and encourage and support them to be the first and best teacher for their children,” said Noelle Sivon, the Families United program manager. “It means you’re not only having some positive parenting skills, but also helping them build that support network that they need to be successful — getting them connected to resources in the community that can enhance their quality of life.”
Parents can get started in the program even before their child is born and continue throughout their child’s kindergarten education. And if later down the line they have another child, they can come back again.
“The early years are so impactful,” Sivon said.
FIRC’s statistics state that around 150 children are being served by the program, with about 1,800 home visits per year occurring on a monthly or weekly basis. On average, clients stay in the program for three years, with a 90 percent retention rate.
The most recent news for the program is that now there is essentially no waiting period between signing up for the program and being paired with a parent educator. Sivon attributes this to funding and donations that allowed for the hiring of another parent educator position.
“That really made all the difference,” she said. “If kids are waiting for visits for one year, they’re only getting older and you’re missing that window of early childhood, a really critical time.”
BUILDING A RELATIONSHIP
Michelle Pierce, Crowley’s mother, joined the Families United program in January 2013. Since then, she has seen significant, notable changes in Crowley’s behavior and development.
“He would just run around in circles and be a crazy man,” she said of her 3-year-old, who will turn 4 at the end of May. Now, he interacts with her, her husband and Castro, their parent educator.
Castro is just as proud of Crowley’s progress as his parents.
“I think what’s more rewarding about this is the growth that you see in the kids,” she said. “I remember when I first started visiting him, he would be like ‘Go away!’ And now he gives me hugs.”
She’s marked his progress. They’re working on speech — word repetition and correctly identifying things like shapes, colors and numbers — as well as physical development. At a recent visitation, Crowley used a pair of plastic pincers to pick up small rubber bugs and transfer them to Castro’s hand as part of a game.
“I know that he’s really engaging in the activities now,” she said, “versus before, he wouldn’t want to do them.”
The boy’s comfort with Castro is clear. During the latest visitation at the FIRC play room, he ran around the room and returned to her again and again, excitedly showing her different toys and ready to engage in several games.
That type of relationship is exactly what the FU parent educators create with all of their clients.
“You have a unique opportunity to create that relationship with a family when you’re going into their home and offering them home visits on a regular basis,” said Sivon. “You really do build a strong relationship with them, and they begin to feel like you are their support system, you’re there to help them with any question that comes up or any needs they might have. You’re their go-to person. It feels good.”
Building relationships goes beyond the connection between parents and the parent educators. The program also works to connect families with each other, through various get-togethers and planned activities.
“One thing that we definitely have found in Summit County is that a lot of families report the feeling of being isolated, and I think that’s just really because they don’t have a support system, a support network when they move here,” said Sivon. “A lot of families have their families far away, whether it’s a different state or different country, and they don’t necessarily know people when they move here.”
The get-togethers, called Group Connections, come in two varieties — activities that children participate in with their parents, and events like dinners that are focused mainly on the parents, with childcare provided. Both types of events are free.
Programs like this one “benefit the community in every way possible moving forward,” Sivon said. “If you invest in early childhood, you really are investing in the long-term health of the community.”
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