Home visiting models such as Parents as Teachers provide mothers with young children with important information, resources and skills that transform lives. Neil White, who tells the stories of Children’s Trust, covered a recent event with one of our home visiting partners.

Group Connections Home Visiting

Amber Schrenkel of Children’s Trust and Sara Sterne of Palmetto Health work as partners administering a national home visiting program for local families.

As the nurse manager at Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital Outpatient Center, which implements the Parents as Teachers model as part of the federal Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program’s federal grant, Sara Sterne works closely with Children’s Trust staff to build stronger health and educational foundations for families.

Serving as South Carolina’s lead agency for MIECHV since 2010, Children’s Trust supports three evidence-based home visiting models – Parents as Teachers, Healthy Families America, and Nurse-Family Partnership – in partnership with implementing agencies in 41 counties. Last year 16 funded sites served 1,242 families through 13,816 home visits. These voluntary program models serve mothers, young children and families by providing them with important resources and skills.

Sterne believes it’s a matter of all the MIECHV-funded sites across South Carolina pulling together under Children’s Trust to provide comprehensive coordination of home visiting services that benefit children and families. She credits Children’s Trust for helping local partners locate resources, manage funds and forge relationships.

“It’s really connecting with educational resources, resources for support for parents, and collaboration,” Sterne said. “We have a good system that can work for us and help us.”

Amber Schrenkel, home visiting resource coordinator at Children’s Trust, praises Children’s Hospital Outpatient Center (CHOC) for its high enrollment rate of families ­– the 33 in the program are near full capacity – and the teamwork it’s displaying in managing the PAT program. She also cites the success it is having with the program-mandated Group Connections meetings.

“The team has reported parents developing relationships between each other at these meetings. They have even had parents lead some of the meetings,” Schrenkel said. “To know that this is happening means that this team is empowering families with relationships and experiences that will have far reaching affects beyond their time in the PAT program.”

Families Gain Information, Find Connections

Montgomery Douglas and his wife Tosha can speak to how much they learn when attending Group Connections meetings at CHOC. They recently became new parents again when their 5-month-old son joined a family that already included a 17-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son. That gap played a role in their enrollment in the home visiting program.

“There are major benefits,” Montgomery Douglas said. “We had our last child 10 years ago. So much has changed since then. Our home visitor educates us on a lot of what has changed.”

Group Connections Home Visiting

Mahmuda Hudson and family (front row) and Montgomery and Tosha Douglas and family (second and third rows) take in a Group Connections session as part of the Parents as Teachers home visiting program.

Home visitors – who can be nurses, social workers, or child development specialists – support preventive health and prenatal practices, help parents understand developmental milestones, promote the use of positive parenting techniques, and work with mothers to set goals for the future, continue their education, and find employment and child care solutions. The evidence-based Parents as Teachers provides services nationally to families with children from prenatal through kindergarten.

Douglas learned from his family’s home visitor, Ashley Bruns, a social worker and parent educator with CHOC, that baby walkers, which are now considered unsafe because they can cause severe injuries, are opposed by the American Academy of Pediatrics. He also appreciated a recent Group Connections meeting for program parents with a guest speaker who focused on fire safety, which caused him to check his home to ensure proper precautions were being taken.

Mahmuda Hudson, one of the mothers in the program, attended the Group Connections meeting with her 11-year-old daughter and 6-month-old son. She praised the information she receives from her home visitor, Shereza Middleton, a social worker and parent educator, as being helpful in terms of interacting with the child and managing behavior.

Helping Children Meet Key Milestones

Group Connections Home Visiting

Parents as Teacher supervisor Wanda Gardner listens to an SC Thrive presentation.

On this late November evening, the Group Connections gathering featured speaker Liz Walsh, a regional coordinator with SC Thrive. She gave a presentation on recognizing signs of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. The meeting included a meal, activities and a group discussion, and it was open to all the families involved in the program.

Wanda Gardner, the PAT supervisor with CHOC, said the monthly Group Connections meetings complement the home visits made with the families.

“A lot of times, parents can be isolated,” Gardner said. “So it’s just good on a monthly basis to invite everyone in the program to come together because parents can learn a lot from each other and share in the joys and challenges of parenthood. It’s also an opportunity for them to make some connections with other people who can help.”

The Group Connections meetings are just one piece of what makes home visiting so effective. Sterne calls the one-on-one connection with a home visitor the key element in helping mothers improve parenting skills and ensuring child development milestones are reached.

“The greatest benefit that the families get from home visitation is the bond created and relationships formed as a result of home visits and interaction with the home visitors,” Sterne said. “This bond is forged slowly, and it really involves a lot of trust on behalf of the families. It takes a lot to have a person come into your house on a regular basis. With this trust, the families build a sense of security and empowerment. Families feel safe in asking questions – empowered to question the home visitors, physicians, teachers – and confident in parenting skills.”