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Holladay Journal

Home visitation program helps parents and families with young children

Aug 03, 2022 07:31PM ● By Sarah Morton Taggart

By Sarah Morton Taggart | [email protected]

One day in June, Lisia Satini was working with a young client. She asked the 3-year-old boy to name the plastic animals she held up, and was delighted when he named them all.

“This was a child who could not speak before. His verbal skills were like ‘uh, uh,’” Satini said. “Now he’s able to say ‘zebra!’”

Satini is the home visitation program supervisor for Children’s Service Society of Utah (CSS). The home visitation program offers parent education to families throughout pregnancy and until the child enters kindergarten.

Satini had originally been working with the child’s older sibling.

“The parent was able to pick up on the cues. She knew something was up,” Satini said. “We were able to detect at a young age that he was on the autism spectrum. So we screened him and saw a child development (specialist). We were able to consult with the parent about seeing a pediatrician and now we have him in an IEP (Individualized Education Program).”

Satini continued working with the family and recalls another recent visit with that child.

“He had the potty training seat on his head,” Satini said with a laugh. “You know, I’m sure it was clean, his mom was letting him. He’s working on potty training and this is how he’s connecting with it. He has the seat and he’s saying ‘circle’ because he loves shapes. I love it, going from where he was at couldn’t say words to now he knows shapes. Just the way he was connecting through the screen was awesome.”

The home visitation program uses the Parents as Teachers curriculum, a method used throughout the United States and six other countries. Caregivers learn how to overcome challenges involved with parenting to help children ages 0 to 5 reach their full potential. Certified parent educators like Satini are trained on how to apply scientific information on early brain development into specific, practical advice for parents. For example, parents learn how to find teachable moments in everyday life to help improve their child’s language, social, intellectual and language skills.

“This program, now that I know what it is, I recommend it to everyone,” Satini said. “You’re able to learn about the family and how it functions. Whether you’re a single parent home, two parent home, just a parent. It’s not easy. Children are not easy. We’re all still learning.”

The parent educators usually visit twice a month, or once a week in the case of single parent households.

“I didn’t know, besides just going to the doctor, that these are the milestones my children need to be at,” Satini said. “And knowing the statistics of what it does when you read to your child. It sets them up at an early age to be able to perform in the school system.”

Along with lessons and advice, the educators offer screenings to assess the child’s development as well as connections to other resources that are available.

“Right now we serve refugee families, Pacific Islanders, Spanish-speaking families, and also teen parents,” Satini said. “We have paraeducators trained to provide that culturally-sound connection where families can feel comfortable.”

Of course, challenges arose at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In our curriculum we strongly push parent engagement. We talk a lot about limiting screen time,” Satini said. “But with the pandemic we had to start offering virtual visits, so then of course we’re going back to the screen. We went through a transition in the beginning with families not having the right technology. It was not easy doing visits through the phone.”

In 2020, CSS organized fundraising campaigns and provided Chromebooks for all of the families in the home visitation program. But even with the new technology there were hiccups.

“Visits are an hour long and we’d use most of that training them on how to get set up,” Satini said. “But now we have parents who have that skill. We can say that’s a plus. We have kids interacting on the screen and attention spans are a little longer. These are the little milestones that make it worth it.”

Home visitation paraeducators are just beginning to make arrangements to visit families in person again, as long as everyone involved feels comfortable with meeting. Virtual visits will continue to be an option.

Representatives from CSS are back to attending community events to let parents know about the home visitation program, and social media and word of mouth also drive participation. Interested parents can visit to fill out a referral form.

“When we visit with these families, we learn how their family functions,” Satini said. “If they need resources we’re able to help them tap into all of these connections, from mortgage relief, rent relief, to free lunches in the summers.”

Most families working with the home visitation program live in Salt Lake County, but educators have begun working in Davis County as well.

“To me, home visitation is the true prevention program that exists in our community,” said Encarni Gallardo, the executive director of CSS. “The program puts educators and community health workers in their homes. They see where the struggles are, and offer the resources the families need. It tailors support to the family to ensure the children are safe and receiving the support they need to be ready for school.”

“We always say CSS is the oldest child welfare agency in Utah,” Gallardo continued. “We’ve been around since 1884 and we’ve adapted services to meet the needs of the community as things change.”

Today, CCS offers several programs in addition to home visitation: adoption services, Grandfamilies Kinship Care, and Care about Childcare, which offers services to parents and providers.

The organization’s newest venture is the Building Blocks Childcare Center in Taylorsville, which offers free and reduced cost childcare and preschool to low-income families in partnership with the United Way of Salt Lake.

“I’ve worked with families of all kinds and all different incomes,” Gallardo said. “Children have a universal language. All children want to succeed in life. To me what CSS does is put a voice to those children. CSS is here to assure that caregivers have the support they need for children to grow up and succeed. These kids will be taking care of our future. Let’s give them the opportunity they need to stay healthy and safe.”

Satini’s own children are nearly grown. When they were young she was a stay-at-home mom. She later worked in community health. In 2016, she joined CSS as a specialist for working with Pacific Islander families.

“It’s the same work, except I’m now going into homes,” Satini said. “My baby is now 13, so I didn’t get to take advantage of it. However, I do love this curriculum because I still apply a lot of things with my teenage kids. I believe connection never stops with your children.”