Building babies’ brains through home visits

Before a child enters a classroom, her primary means of learning comes from the home. The home is the first school, and parents are the first teachers.

Research shows that the relationship children have with their parents and other caregivers are vital to early childhood development. These relationships are the foundation of the approach to promoting child development through home visits.

At their best, home-visiting programs provide structured visits by trained professionals and paraprofessionals to high-risk parents who are either pregnant or have young children.

Home visits also offer a window of opportunity to talk to parents about the importance of introducing vocabulary to enhance brain development in babies and toddlers.

While it may seem like baby talk, research has shown that parents who begin speaking to their children at an early age provide their child with a greater advantage in life.

In partnerships with agencies that provide home visits, the Studer Community is aiming to help providers share the importance of baby talk and brain development.

As program coordinator for parent outreach, I collaborate and work with area agencies and organizations that provide services for parents and children ages 0 to 3.

Last week I secured an agreement from the ARC Gateway-Pearl Nelson Child Development Center to provide training for their staff who work directly with parents in home visits on the Brain Bag curriculum and the University of Chicago’s Thirty Million Words Initiative teaching points.

The Center provides services for parents whose children have developmental delays. Pearl Nelson’s infant and toddler developmental specialists will learn strategies used to build babies’ brains, including the three T”s: tune in, take turns and talk to.

The Studer Family Children’s Hospital Early Steps is considering participating in the training sessions, and offers to join in will go out to other agencies that make home visits, including Early Head Start, 90Works, Heart Start Coalition of Escambia County and Children’s Home Society.

Providing professionals who make home visits the tools and skills to assist at-risk parents is another important step in helping young children reach developmental milestones. It brings us a step closer to achieving the goal of becoming America’s First Early Learning City.

Research shows home visiting works, improving health and saving money for taxpayers, with tangible results like better birth outcomes, improved child health outcomes, better educational attainment for moms, improved school readiness, reduced child abuse and neglect, and more economically self-sufficient families.

Ideally, the visiting professional builds a relationship with the primary caregiver and other family members, helping them understand infant and toddler development and behavior and helping the family through any special challenges their child presents.

Locally-administered home visiting programs match at-risk parents and their children with trained providers such as nurses, social workers or paraprofessionals. These providers meet regularly with families through home visits, providing support and services, such as parenting and health care education, child abuse prevention, and early intervention and education services during pregnancy and throughout the child’s earliest years.

These programs support families by providing health check-ups, screenings, referrals, parenting advice and guidance with navigating other programs and services. The programs also monitor progress on children’s developmental milestones.

Home visiting programs help parents provide safe and supportive environments for their children. When families are fully engaged and complete the programs, home visits build strong relationships that can lead to long-term and lasting benefits for the children and their families.

The key is providing parents with the information, support and encouragement needed for their child to reach his or her optimal development stage during the crucial early years of life.