Nicole Buchholz and Rosie Zweiback, Munroe-Meyer Institute Omaha, Nebraska
Abstract During COVID-19, a vibrant family engagement program in Omaha, Nebraska, replaced in-person services with virtual services for months at a time. Many families in the community worked in essential service industries that were hit disproportionately hard by the disease. The program found innovative ways to support families and continue assessments to promote parent–child interactions and measure family resiliency, child development, and progress toward parent goals.
“Le traje a mi hija para que la peine y le corte el cabello también.” [I brought in my daughter for a style and a haircut.]
The play session begins as the mother pretends to take her child to a hair salon for a cut and style. Her 4-year-old daughter delightedly fills the role of hair stylist, kneeling next to her mother and a styling head doll. While the next 10 minutes unfold, the pair engage in all the familiar conversations that take place in most hair salons. They chat about cutting off split ends and discuss the customer’s plans to attend a friend’s birthday party after the styling session. Educational navigator Ana Lamas watches remotely as she records the clip while sitting at her home computer (see Figure 1). This is the story of a family engagement program’s success in using the Keys to Interactive Parenting Scale (KIPS; Comfort et al., 2006), a parent–child interaction assessment, remotely with families.
Figure 1. Screen Shots of Home Visitor and Family
A Family Engagement Center Impacted by COVID
When COVID-19 hit the United States in March, many family engagement programs had to hit the pause button on in-person services as the nation went into quarantine. The Learning Community Center of South Omaha (LCCSO), which typically serves more than 200 families, in Omaha, Nebraska, was one of those programs. A partnership between the Learning Community of Douglas and Sarpy Counties and One World Community Health Centers, the program offers an array of services such as English as a Second Language (ESL), GED and parenting classes, interactive parent–child activities, an on-site early childhood education program, and home visitation.
As COVID-19 began to impact the community, the connection and supports provided by the LCCSO program became more important than ever. Some families saw a sudden and dramatic loss of income as their employers, particularly in the restaurant industry, closed temporarily. Other families feared that their work in essential services increased their exposure to the disease and therefore, increased the risk of bringing the infection into their homes. A number of families live in multigenerational households, which added to their worries that they would expose vulnerable elders to COVID. With schools closed and school-age children learning at home, the parent program at LCCSO was a vital resource that strengthened the community.
With a team that includes four ESL instructors, five educational navigators, and six child learning providers, the LCCSO shifted its focus to create a virtual partnership with families. ESL instructors pivoted from their typical whole-class method of instruction to phone-based tutoring sessions. The teaching team also created a YouTube channel and posted videos relating to remote learning concepts, and slowly transitioned to videochat classes. Educational navigators began communicating with families in any way they could. Family learning manager Nayeli Lopez shared, “At first, we communicated with families in whatever platform they felt comfortable with.” Methods such as FaceTime, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp were initially used to reach out to see how families were doing.
The LCCSO staff also got creative in connecting more personally with individual families. Making great use of their bus that usually brought families to the center, staff masked up, hopped aboard, and headed out into the community. The vehicle was referred to as the “Happy Bus” as staff stopped by participants’ homes for socially distanced outdoor check-ins to see how they were doing. Instructors sang songs and did an activity with the family. The “Happy Bus” later morphed into a “Graduation Bus” as the child learning providers passed out graduation certificates for pre-k students ready to enter kindergarten in the fall.
By September 2020, LCCSO had secured a grant and purchased 100 laptops and 20 hotspots to distribute to families interested in continuing their learning remotely. Clients could enroll in the “Full Program,” attending ESL or GED classes online twice a week, in addition to a parenting class every other week and virtual home visits. A second option was offered during the pandemic to enroll in a “Home Visit Only” program, receiving virtual home visits twice a month.
What Is KIPS?
A key tool that LCCSO uses to assess and promote positive parent–child interactions is KIPS. KIPS was created by Marilee Comfort and Phil Gordon in 2004 (Comfort et al., 2006). It is a reliable, evidence-based tool used to effectively measure parenting behaviors across 12 areas. Through the use of video, KIPS assesses parent–child interactions during a natural play session. KIPS is used with parents of children from 2 to 71 months old. The tool has clinical applications in guiding home visitors to help their clients identify their strengths and reflect on areas to grow. KIPS is also useful for program evaluation, using concrete data to share with funders and program staff to track parent progress over time. Family learning manager Nayeli Lopez shared, “What I like most about KIPS, when thinking of parenting interactions, is that it is a video and not something that is another oral or written assessment that the family has to complete. Videos are more accessible and natural in that regard.”
Implementing KIPS Remotely
For a program that has been using KIPS for program evaluation for nearly 9 years, the question arose, “Can we still film KIPS, while not being physically present with our families?” Educational navigators piloted four KIPS videos remotely and sent them to their evaluation partners at the University of Nebraska Medical Center/Munroe-Meyer Institute. The KIPS coders encountered a few challenges at first. On occasion, unstable Internet connections resulted in a few shaky moments, such as frozen screens or spotty audio, but overall, families could be heard and seen playing with one another despite the distance between the home visitor and the families.
Educational navigator Ana Lamas shared, “I was very excited to start KIPS again. I did not know if it was going to work because of technology…I was happy to see the families again.”
Once the evaluators determined that KIPS videos could in fact be scored when recorded remotely, the educational navigators set to work filming the rest of the program’s participants.
The process of filming KIPS remotely can be accomplished with the right materials in place. This program was fortunate to have sufficient resources to loan all interested families a laptop, which came with a built-in camera so participants could film themselves at home. Educational navigators asked parents in advance to suggest a good time to record the play session. Videochat meetings were then scheduled on their personal laptops or work PCs. The educational navigator allowed the parent time to set up and play for a bit to ensure the parent and child were properly seen and heard. Once they were ready, the educational navigator hit record on the videochat panel and playtime began.
The program also found success in using smartphones for filming. Filming remotely with a smartphone involves the parent receiving a videochat link from the Educational Navigator on their phone. Once the link has been received, the parent can prop up their phone on a table or shelf to showcase their play.
One parent asked educational navigator Ana Lamas if she could record the video by herself and submit it on her own time. “But I want to see you! I want to see how you are doing!” was Ana’s reply. The real-time presence of the educational navigator on the videocall ensures that play is adequately heard, and the faces of the parent and child can be seen.
Humorous events that so often happen in the world of videochat can occur during filming. During one KIPS session, the camera decided to spontaneously film the educational navigator for 30 seconds, rather than the family. The camera eventually went back to the family and the video could be coded.
Family learning manager Nayeli Lopez noted that some families actually preferred filming KIPS remotely, “We had some feedback that a few families were more comfortable filming remotely because it is less intrusive. The parent felt that it was more natural. For a moment, they forget that the camera is there.”
Although the KIPS tool was intended for in-person filming, LCCSO has successfully proven that videos can be done remotely. With the hard work of five educational navigators, and the help of videochat platforms and the proper technology, the program was able to record more than 100 videos during a 5-month period. A task that in the beginning of the pandemic seemed almost impossible, proved to be a powerful experience connecting children, parents, and the program team. The KIPS tool showed its relevance and flexibility. In this time of social isolation, it is certain that families need connection and support. For a parent engagement program in Omaha, Nebraska, the KIPS tool provided a vital virtual link to families.
To learn more about KIPS:
For more information on the Learning Community Center of South Omaha:
Buchholz, N., & Zweiback, R. (2021). Supporting parent–child interaction strategies during COVID-19. ZERO TO THREE Journal, 41(Supp.).
Nicole Buchholz, MS, is an early childhood program evaluator in the Department of Education and Child Development at the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Munroe Meyer Institute. She has 10 years of experience as a Keys to Interactive Parenting Scale (KIPS) coder and trainer. Ms. Buchholz oversees KIPS evaluation for the Learning Community Center in Omaha, Nebraska. She has a master’s degree in early childhood, and she has 8 years of experience as an English as a Second Language pre-kindergarten teacher.
Rosie Zweiback, MA, is the associate director of the Department of Education and Child Development at the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Munroe Meyer Institute. She has over a decade of experience conducting program evaluations for local, regional, and statewide programs that support families and children. With Ms. Buchholz, she leads a team of evaluators who review approximately 700 parent–child interaction videos annually. Ms. Zweiback has a master’s degree in education and has worked in the education field for more than 30 years.
Comfort, M., Gordon, P. R., & Unger, D. G. (2006). The Keys to Interactive Parenting Scale: A window into many facets of parenting. ZERO TO THREE Journal, 26(5), 37–44.