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Program supports parents to give children equal start

“I’ve been sleep deprived in the Army but at least you eventually get to catch up on your sleep. With all the chores and no sleep, raising a kid is harder.”

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Most people won’t disagree that helping children develop into healthy adults is tough work. Army Veteran Renata Lindo said she loves her infant son but her duties in the military stationed in places like Germany were easier than being a parent.

“I’ve been sleep deprived in the Army but at least you eventually get to catch up on your sleep,” she said. “With all the chores and no sleep, raising a kid is harder.”

Renata shared her parenting experiences with other parents at the Hangin Art Gallery on Wednesday. The Lake County Public Health Department organized the meeting through their Parents as Teachers program for anyone with infant children to age five with the idea that parents need support.

“I think it was Hillary Clinton who said it takes a village to raise a child,” said Jane Crist, Parents as Teachers educator and registered nurse. “We want to help give all children the best start they can get.”

Parents As Teachers began three years ago as part of a national program funded by a grant through the Affordable Care Act to help get kids ready for school hoping to give all children more of an equal opportunity to thrive. 

“Babies don’t come with manuals and sometimes parents don’t know what to do,” said Jen Blumberg, family support specialist from Lake County Public Health. 

The main function of the program is to offer in-home visits to answer questions, locate resources and discuss child development issues so parents better understand what to do. The program is in the early years of building, which includes getting more people interested in the idea of home visits. 

 “It’s been a challenge to get into homes,” Crist said. “People think we are something like the CPS (Child Protective Services). It’s that stigma that we are trying to change. Our focus is on support at no expense. We want to help parents.”

Visiting homes, as opposed to an office visit, helps parent educators get to know children and families so they can better understand a family’s needs. Educators play with the children and interact with the family, which is something Blumberg said isn’t possible in a quick office visit.

“In the home, we go through the milestone charts to see if the child is on track,” Blumberg said. “We have a play activity appropriate for the child’s age. We talk about safety issues in the home like covering electric outlets. Being in the home helps us really get to know the child and bond with the family. We get to know the whole dynamic so we can help a child reach those development milestones.”

Blumberg explained that in different countries home visits are more accepted as a way of supporting parents to help create healthy citizens. 

“This is new in our area,” she said. “It will take time for it to catch on.”

Group meetings are the second element to the program. Blumberg said few attended the first couple of meetings in Arlee, but at last week’s meeting, the room was full of children and parents.

“This is the biggest turn out we’ve had in four weeks,” she said. “You keep showing up and eventually people will come. Our goals with these meetings are to get parents together and we hope they sign up for our in home visits.”

Sara Bauer encouraged 15-month-old Kay Lynne to join the children as she explained to the parents that she was surprised at “how hard it is to do anything beyond care” for her daughter. She said it was good to hear the same feelings echoed from other parents.

The next Parents as Teachers meeting at the Hangin Art Gallery is on Wednesday, Oct. 29, at 10 a.m. For more information about the program, call (406) 883-7288 or www.lakecountypublichealth.org. 

 

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