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Better Together: An Early Head Start Partnership Supporting Families in Recovery Experiencing Homelessness

Rebecca Cuevas and Grace Whitney

Abstract

This article describes the ongoing impact of one Early Head Start grantee’s participation in a statewide initiative to connect the state’s network of residential substance abuse treatment programs for women and their children with their local Early Head Start program. The initiative was designed to enhance child development and parenting supports using a self-assessment tool; to childproof the residential recovery program; to prevent homelessness by connecting families with ongoing housing supports upon completion of recovery services; to ensure Early Head Start access and participation; and to increase cross-training, collaboration among staff, and overall coordination of services to families.

Since 2009, Area Cooperative Educational Services Middlesex County Early Head Start (ACES EHS) has been providing comprehensive home visiting services to children and families in six Connecticut communities. Investments in early care and education are an investment in a thriving and successful future for children across Connecticut and the nation. ACES EHS emphasizes the role of the parent as the child’s first and most important teacher. It is through relationships that all early development takes place. Along with the support of home visiting staff, ACES EHS’s focus is on the home as the child’s primary learning environment. Recognizing the importance of the parallel process, the relationship of the home visitor to parents, caregivers, and expectant families is central to the program’s effective service delivery. This relationship becomes the vehicle through which to strengthen the parent’s ability to nurture the healthy development of the children.

ACES EHS uses both the evidence-based Early Head Start Homebased Model (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2018) and the evidence-based Parents as Teachers curriculum (Parents as Teachers, n.d.) to provide parent education primarily through home visits and group meetings. ACES EHS uses Parents Interacting With Infants (PIWI, n.d.) in socialization experiences. This model promotes the healthy social–emotional development of infants and toddlers. ACES EHS also uses Creative Curriculum Teaching Strategies GOLD (Teaching Strategies–GOLD: Birth Through Kindergarten (n.d.) to ensure and assess that children are meeting early learning goals and objectives. The number of trauma-impacted families in ACES EHS continues to grow because of an increase in program participants who are, or have been, homeless, as well as those impacted by substance use disorders. This is in part due to ACES EHS’s involvement in the third cohort of statewide outreach initiatives to target these populations for enrollment into EHS and Head Start services. ACES EHS has continued to see an increase in its enrollment of women with substance use disorders who often also have had experiences of sexual abuse, intimate partner violence, homelessness, lack of social supports, inadequate parenting, poor nutrition, and psychiatric comorbidity.

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