Policy Resource

Blogging NTI: The Last Round-Up, Part II

Dec 21, 2011

So many sessions, so little space and time! Here are a few more summaries from our enthusiastic reporters at ZERO TO THREE’s National Training Institute, which concluded last Sunday.

Two of our correspondents sent back reports on sessions about quality in home visiting programs:

The Essence of High-Quality Home Visiting Practices

Is it possible there could be three women with more passion, more energy, or more excitement about the work of home visiting with vulnerable families and their infants? I don’t think so. The enthusiasm of Deborrah Bremond, Kadija Johnston and Brenda Jones Harden was contagious and the 90 minutes I spent listening to them flew by in the blink of an eye. I think the packed, standing-room-only crowd felt the same way. Their message was clear and made simple…all boiling down to the importance of what they described as the 3 R’s – Relationships, Responsiveness and Reflection. Each presenter selected one of the “R’s” and spoke eloquently, almost magically, about its role high quality home visiting.

Participants were afforded a special treat when the presenters then engaged each other, along with the audience, in a lively and illustrative discussion jam-packed with nuggets of gold…such as for home visitors, 1. avoid the pull to be the most engaging one in the room…instead use that energy to shine the light on the parent, and 2. get off the couch, get on the floor and start coaching in the context of parent-child interaction…be a whisper in the parent’s ear. For supervisors and program administrators, adopt hiring practices that allow you to identify a candidate’s reflective capacity, and for systems thinkers, when trying to impact outcomes which have traditionally been a challenge for home visiting programs, such as child development, maximize what home visiting is good at, i.e. facilitating parent change. Utilize the worker-parent relationship to impact child development, rather than trying to change the framework of the program.

Do You Know it When You See It? Defining Quality in Home-Visiting Programs

The presenters started this session, one of a few conference offerings focusing on quality in home visiting, with a “pair share” that set the room buzzing with conversation on what quality IS in home visiting. They went on to describe their ecological model of quality and share their process of developing a quality assessment tool for home visiting programs that identifies five categories of quality: Home Visiting Staff Competencies; Program Service Delivery; Program Characteristics; Program Management and Development; and Progress Monitoring. Finally, they shared the preliminary results of the field testing. We will definitely be hearing more about this tool and how it is being utilized as the field and validity testing is completed, and it becomes available to the newly expanded home visiting field.

Other sessions addressed the needs of a variety of special populations:

Attachment, Separation, and Loss in the Toddler and Early Childhood Years

People filled the seats and lined the back wall for the Saturday afternoon session, Attachment, Separation, and Loss in the Toddler and Early Childhood Years. Dr. Laura M Bennett-Murphy from Westminster College in Salt Lake City, UT and Dr. Tovah P. Klein from Barnard College in New York City spoke about their respective experiences working with families on issues of separation and loss.

Dr. Klein spoke first, discussing separation as a normal developmental task. Part of establishing a secure attachment, she argued, is the ability to separate from and reunite with the primary caregiver without too much anxiety or frustration. For many children and parents, this is a painful process, as even routine separations (e.g. dropping the child off at their child care center for the day) feel like a loss to the child – and should be recognized as such by the caregivers. Dr. Klein’s center supports parents and children in their navigation of this developmental task by integrating attachment-informed practices.

Dr. Bennett-Murphy’s center in Salt Lake City works with refugee families who have experienced severe trauma: war, torture, and the violent loss of loved ones. For these families, navigating the standard developmental task of separation can be extremely difficult and even retraumatizing. Dr. Bennett-Murphy used a few real-life cases in order to illustrate the ways in which trauma “pierces the protective cover” that a secure attachment usually provides a child. She argued that, in working with these families, we must consider every decision in the context of their history and attend to healing early and continually.

Unlocking America’s Potential: Cultural Competence in Serving Vulnerable Minority Families

How could a session featuring sock puppets fail to be interesting? Dr.Glendelia Zavala, Magda Santos and Jennifer Flores, presented a very dynamic and interactive session about the AVANCE model. After going over the AVANCE Parent-Child Education Program goals, components, and outcomes, they described their new initiative, Unlocking America’s Potential, funded by the Kellogg Foundation. Originally developed to serve Mexican families immigrating to the United States, the AVANCE model now will be evaluated as it is adapted to different cultural groups. Four grants have already been awarded to Native American, African-American, and non-Mexican Latino populations. Four additional grants will be awarded under a new Request for Proposals announcement on the AVANCE website in December. The AVANCE team stressed that their program was successful because of its strict attendance requirements and its support for parent-child interaction. Selected session participants got to make sock puppets as a demonstration of a standard AVANCE component for engaging parents, the Toy-Making activity. Meanwhile, the entire audience participated in a lively discussion in which several of them were readily able to identify ways the model would enhance their existing programs.

Homelessness and Young Children: How Your Agency Can Make a Difference

Funding, terminology, and assessment tools programs use often separate parental mental health from issues of financial distress and homelessness/unstable housing, but they are intricately woven in the realities of family life. The speakers, Patricia Avery from Foothills Family Service in California, Dr. Sharon McDonald of the National Alliance to End Homelessness in Washington, D.C., and Kathleen Guarino of The National Center on Family Homeless in Needham, MA, presented compelling information and data about how children are negatively affected by the trauma of unstable housing. Homelessness is too often a family secret. Children lose privacy, familiar objects, friends, schools, routines and familiarity with space. Audience members vividly augmented the presenters’ information by providing their own real stories about homeless families living under bridges, in cars, abandoned houses, and “tent cities” in major metropolitan areas, or “couch-surfing”. More than half of the homeless children are under 6 years of age. Families break apart and often drop out of services, often leaving no way for follow-up contact.

Speakers advocated for agencies to identify how their mission can include purposefully serving these stressed families. This begins with identifying that homeless/unstable housing families exist in the community and probably in current agency caseloads and classrooms—possibly as high as 20-30% of current clients. Staff may need training on how to identify the families since parents feel guilty and ashamed or are fearful of losing their children. Suggestions included developing agency knowledge as well as relationships with the agencies that already serve the homeless; expediting services; developing timely intervention plans; working across community boundaries, because the homeless do not stay in one town; developing an agency approach that provides an anchor for children; and making plans very early in any contact with a family about how to maintain that contact as families move around. Mental health support services for distressed parents and access to concrete resources are crucial and can be provided through partnerships. The Hope and Home program conducted in the Foothills site is an example of how child attachment and maternal wellbeing can be increased.

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