Education

Brain Bags boost Arc, Early Childhood Court programs

Some of the Arc Gateway clients who help assemble the Studer Community Institute's Brain Bags. Credit: Arc Gateway.

The gift of language is one my parents gave me early on.

From the stories my grandmother used to tell me at bedtime, to the newspaper stories my mother says she read to me as a child, words were everywhere in my home. That rich, creative environment is a part of the reason I became a writer.

And a bit of a daydreamer, as I’m sure some of my teachers could attest.

In a small way, that’s what I hope the Brain Bag project of Studer Community Institute becomes for other families. It is already spreading across the community in ways I never imagined when we wrote our proposal to IMPACT 100 Pensacola Bay Area to launch the early literacy project.

Missy Rogers, chief executive officer of Arc Gateway, said the Brain Bag project has been a double benefit for Arc and Pollak Industries.

“Assembling the Brain Bags has allowed adults with disabilities to participate in paid work and training,” Rogers said. “But, more than that, it has provided a sense of pride by being involved in a community effort that promotes childhood development and encourages parental interaction. Those who assemble the Brain Bags are proud to be a part of the initiative.”

Brain Bags also have touched the Pearl Nelson Center, an arm of Arc that provides speech, vision, occupational and physical therapy as well as developmental instruction by infant toddler developmental specialists.

MaryAnn Bickerstaff, children’s services director for Arc and Pearl Nelson, requested the Brain Bags and the curriculum that goes with them for her staff.

Pearl Nelson has 145 bags to be used with families with children under 4 who use Pearl Nelson Center services, a testament to the way the community has embraced the bags and their mission.

Since January, 15 infant toddler developmental specialists at Pearl Nelson Center, 8 service coordinators at Early Steps, and 17 Healthy Start nurses at the Florida Department of Public Health in Escambia County have been trained on the Brain Bag teaching points.

They will use them with the clients they reach through individual, one-on-one coaching with parents. This means the Brain Bags will begin to reach at least 335 more families who already have young children under age 4.

“We love that this partnership is helping to support The Arc Gateway in so many different ways” says Emily Clutter, marketing and PR director for Arc.

And the footprint of the Brain Bags is set to expand.

Claudia McArthur is team manager for Early Childhood Court in District 1, and she has asked to use the Brain Bags in her team’s work.

Families First Network oversees the team in Escambia and Okaloosa counties. The team works to ensure that children in the child welfare system receive health and psychosocial services including early intervention for developmental delays to ensure their safety, enhance their well-being, increase chances of reunification, and reach permanency more quickly.

FFN has provided coordinating support for an Early Childhood Court Team in Escambia County since September 2013 and in Okaloosa County since March 2015.

This June, The Florida Institute for Child Welfare at Florida State University published a research report on the ECC program. Researchers found that participation in the early childhood court program for at least four months significantly lowered parental stress in certain interactions with their child. It also showed evidence that ECC participants in Escambia and Okaloosa Counties have significantly higher rates of reunification compared to matched comparison groups in their respective counties. Rates of maltreatment were also lower in the ECC groups.

Families served by Early Childhood Court receive substance abuse counseling, anger management counseling, domestic violence counseling and parenting classes. Parents are allowed supervised visits with their children, which include the foster parents caring for the young child.

Last year, FFN received a $60,000 grant to add training for the team members in Trauma Informed Care. Trauma Informed care practices train professionals to recognize the long-lasting and far-reaching impacts that early trauma have on a child’s emotional, social and academic development.

That the Early Childhood Court team sees value in our work, and wants to add it to the toolkit they use to help some of our most vulnerable children, is humbling.

We thank them for the work they do every day with families who need more support than most — and we are proud to be even a small part of it.