by Betty Lease, Scripps
Howard News Service, May 27, 2003
All over the country, organizations, agencies, government entities,
institutes, community leaders and parents are working to make life better
for young children and their families. Armed with the latest research on
brain development, these programs and efforts are all geared to maximize
Here is a sampling of some of the programs.
For more than 10 years, Healthy Families San Angelo, a home-based family
support program in Texas, has worked to promote healthy child development
and enhance family function for first-time parents. Healthy Families was
the second program of its kind in the United States. Its parenting
curriculum, "Healthy Babies ... Healthy Families," is used in more than 80
percent of the 450 specialty parenting programs worldwide.
Through home visits and weekly meetings, parents hash out the challenges
and joys of parenthood, sharing problems, ideas and solutions. Social
workers also provide guidance in selecting age-appropriate activities by
teaching basic child development.
Their work with young fathers in the "Dads Making a Difference" program is
considered a pioneer in social service circles and is being used as a
model in the United States, Australia, Vietnam, Italy, Canada and the
"A lot say they work with families and it's 98 percent moms," said Michael
Hayes, who directs a fatherhood initiative for Texas' Attorney General.
"There are a lot of programs working with dads and a lot working with
moms, but very few work together like this. There are a handful of
programs in the nation I can look to and say, 'This is the model.'
(Healthy Families) is one of those."
EARLY CHILDHOOD INTERVENTION
Early Childhood Intervention, a federal- and state-funded initiative in
Texas, provides in-home services for children ranging from birth to age 3.
Early Childhood Intervention collaborates with a network of area
therapists, pediatricians and educators to ensure that at-risk children
develop at a healthy rate.
During home visits, social workers evaluate the child's growth, social
behavior, self-help abilities and motor, cognitive and communications
skills. They also provide developmentally appropriate toys and books and
refer caretakers to other social service providers.
BRAIN- BUILDING READINESS AMONG INFANTS NOW
A program in two Florida counties is giving parents the tools they need to
help make those important connections in their babies' brains.
BRAIN — Building Readiness Among Infants Now — began five years ago and
serves about 2,000 families a year. A registered nurse visits the home
within the first few days of the child's life and teaches the parents
basic safety, health and breast-feeding and answers questions. Parents
then have the opportunity to sign up for a second visit focusing on brain
This visit occurs when the child is about 2 months old. The home visitor
uses a "brain bag" as the lesson plan for the one- to two-hour visit,
explaining each item and how it relates to the child's development.
The brain bags include a board book, a video about brain research and
child development, a toy, a lullaby cassette tape, a book on developmental
milestones, and information on infant sleep, infant massage and where
parents can get help.
"Once the company goes home and all the hoopla is over, parents are
absolutely starving for information," said Kathy Derringer, vice president
of Baby Steps, the organization that coordinates the visits.
The program, funded through money from a property tax assessment for
children, continues through the child's fourth birthday with a
developmental assessment survey called Ages and Stages. Parents report by
mail on what milestones the child has reached, and Baby Steps staff
reviews the assessments and calls if there are any red flags.
PARENTS AS TEACHERS
Begun in 1981 with funding from the Missouri Department of Elementary and
Secondary Education and The Danforth Foundation, Parents as Teachers has
grown to an international early childhood parent education support program
that serves families from pregnancy to kindergarten.
The PAT National Center in St. Louis develops curricula, trains early
childhood professionals and certifies parent educators. There are PAT
programs in all 50 states and other countries, adapted to suit local
needs, but all provide core services of personal visits, group meetings,
health and developmental screenings and resource information.
One of those is a Gallup, N.M., program that began three years ago with a
conversation between a pediatrician and a preschool teacher who both noted
that children they were seeing were far below the standards in health and
development, a common phenomenon in McKinley County, the poorest county in
New Mexico and the third-poorest county in the nation.
The program is now a partnership between the Rehoboth McKinley Christian
Hospital and the Gallup-McKinley County Public Schools with the Navajo
Nation also contributing funding. Four parent educators are serving 125
at-risk families with home visits, resource referrals and well-child
checks. Educators teach parents or caregivers about the importance of
interacting with and reading to their babies. They emphasize that doing so
in the first three years of life is crucial to their children's brain
Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton launched this initiative in his state in 2000,
using 25 percent of the state's tobacco settlement money to fund an array
of programs. They ensure maternal and child health; improve child-care
programs with scholarships, training initiatives and a volunteer rating
system; and support first-time parents through a home visit program that
includes brain-research-based development tools.
Patton has championed the new brain research findings. In a letter to
parents in the program, he said, "Children develop most dramatically
before the age of 5, and what parents and caregivers do during those early
years makes a profound difference in a child's healthy development and
later success in school."
EVERY CHILD SUCCEEDS: SUCCESS BY 6
In Ohio, the Greater Cincinnati United Way has made early childhood
development a priority. In 1999 it launched Every Child Succeeds, a home
visit program for first-time parents that offers ongoing support for the
child's first three years, and followed that in 2002 with Success by 6, a
continuation program to prepare children from ages 3 to 6 to enter school.
Every Child Succeeds combines emotional and practical family support with
strong developmental tools, showing parents how to nurture their
children's mental and emotional growth.
That program marked its third year in 2002 with 95 percent of the
participating children progressing at normal development levels in
language, 93 percent in social abilities, 94 percent in gross motor skills
and 94 percent in fine motor skills.
The program served 914 families in four southwestern Ohio counties and 610
families in three nearby Northern Kentucky counties, where it shared the
Kids Now funding. The United Way initiatives combine the resources of
several agencies and hospitals to create the new programs.
United Way Success By 6 is a national, community-based movement of public
and private partners, with programs in more than 350 cities throughout the
United States and Canada. Its roots are in Minneapolis, where it began in
1988 as a collaborative effort guided by long-term research on brain
development, quality child care and early intervention.
In Northern Kentucky, Children Inc., the area's largest childcare and
development agency, has become the area's expert on early brain research
programs. For five years the agency has joined with 28 partner
organizations to sponsor a national brain research conference in Kentucky,
drawing experts in brain research, child development and education. The
child-care agency incorporates brain research in its nine child-care
centers and one of three providers for the Northern Kentucky home visit
program for first-time parents.
Kenton County School System in Northern Kentucky works with the local
hospital to contact new parents with child development information. The
school district continues to send a "Healthy Steps" newsletter regularly
until the child is 2. The newsletters include development information,
parenting tips, health and safety information, and interaction suggestions
designed to instill security and stimulate brain development, including
language and reasoning.
ST. LUCIE COUNTY (Fla.) SCHOOL READINESS COALITION
Babbling, cooing, rhyming and letter sounds may sound like child's play to
some, but those sounds are the building blocks to ensuring a child is
ready to read.
And the St. Lucie County School Readiness Coalition in Florida is making
these skills, known as pre-literacy, a priority this year. Nancy Archer,
the coalition's executive director, said the organization elected to focus
on pre-literacy in the coming fiscal year because of interest expressed by
child-care providers and the emphasis on standardized testing for
"The first three years of life are so important," Archer said. "With the
brain research that has come out, we know we need to give them as much
saturation with words as we can."
The coalition is training its child-care providers in ways to work with
infants through 4-year-olds on these skills. Books are provided at the
centers for parents and children to check out. Parenting workshops on the
topic also are planned.
I AM YOUR CHILD FOUNDATION
Actor-director Rob Reiner and his wife, Michele, founded the I Am Your
Child Foundation in 1997 to help spread the word about the importance of
the prenatal period and a child's first three years of life.
The foundation helped develop two White House conferences on early brain
development and child care; worked with Newsweek to create a special
issue, "Your Child: Birth to Three"; and produced an ABC television
special with Tom Hanks as host and Reiner as director.
The foundation produced a seven-video series that discusses critical
issues in early childhood development. The series, with accompanying
parenting booklets and resource guides, is used by a variety of government
agencies and community organizations.
ZERO TO THREE
A national nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., Zero to Three is
dedicated to promoting healthy development of babies and young children.
Founded in 1977, it distributes information, trains providers, promotes
model approaches and standards of practice, and works to increase public
awareness about the importance of the first three years.
HIPPYUSA (HOME INSTRUCTION FOR PARENTS OF PRESCHOOL YOUNGSTERS)
Guided by the belief that parents play a critical role in their children's
education, the HIPPY program, based in New York, helps parents provide
educational enrichment for their preschool children.
The HIPPY curriculum for 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds consists of 30 weekly
activity packets, nine storybooks and a set of 20 manipulative shapes for
each year. The cognitive-based curriculum focuses on language development,
problem solving, logical thinking and perceptual skills. It also promotes
social-emotional, fine and gross motor skills. Trained home visitors
provide help and support for parents.
HIPPY, an international program that began in Israel in 1969, has spread
to a number of countries. It came to the United States in 1984 and serves
more than 16,000 families and children across the country, both in English
At the private Beauvoir School in Washington, D.C., teachers in February
listened to a "cerebral fitness trainer" from Harvard University who
combines cognitive neuroscience with applications for educational
practice. Gessner Geyer, president of Brainergy Inc., told them how
movement can help students focus as well as how to harness brain chemicals
that could lead students to become frustrated and unwilling to learn. His
site is www.brainergy.com.
Parent Voices is a grass-roots organization of parents in central and
northern California that works to make quality child care available and
affordable to all families. It is a project of the California Child Care
Resource and Referral Network, and its members have testified before
legislative committees, helped draft legislation, organized candidate
forums, registered voters and encouraged scores of parents to become
active members in its chapter organization.
Baby's Space: A Place to Grow is a Minneapolis "educare" center serving
about 30 infants and toddlers primarily from American Indian families
living in subsidized housing. It features a high staff-to-child ratio and
assigned caregivers for each child to maintain consistency.
The program incorporates American Indian culture at the center, which
opened in 2000. The facility was designed by borrowing principles from the
Minnesota Children's Museum HABITOT Learning Landscape, an interactive
learning environment. It was collaboratively developed by early childhood
organizations and the University of Minnesota.