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Parenting Education Beyond COVID-19

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Summary: The Institute for Emerging Issues is hosting a series of conversations around early childhood learning focused on how we develop stronger systems in the midst of ongoing uncertainty.
This episode (Parenting Education Beyond COVID-19) is with guest host Patrick Cronin (IEI Assistant Director) and guests safiyah jackson (early childhood systems director, North Carolina Partnership for Children), Cindy Boger (Lead Parent Educator, Parents as Teachers, Hickory City Schools) and LaKeisha Ross-Johnson (Minister of Music, Arts and Worship, Mt. Zion Baptist Church and Chief Financial Officer, Young People of Integrity).

*This episode of First in Future was recorded on Thursday, July 16th, and reflects information that was up-to-date at that time.*

View the slides here.

Watch Zoomcast on YouTube.

Listen to the podcast:

Highlights & Resources

Resources on Parenting Education Programs in North Carolina

Data for context:
Low Birth-Weight Babies by Race (<2,500g; 2016)
Source: NCDHHS, Early Childhood Data Dashboard.
Black, Non-Hispanic 14.1%
NC Average 9.2%
White, Non-Hispanic 7.6%
Hispanic 7.4%
U.S. Average 8.0%Infant Mortality (per 1,000 live births; 2017)
Source: NCDHHS, Early Childhood Data Dashboard.
American Indian 12.6%
Black, Non-Hispanic 12.5%
NC Average 7.1%
Hispanic 5.7%
White, Non-Hispanic 5.0%
U.S. Average 5.9

Income and Early Achievement
Source: The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading
By Age 2 – Poor children are already behind their peers in listening, counting, and other skills essential to literacy.
Age 3 – A child’s vocabulary as early as age 3 can predict third grade reading achievement.
By age 5 – a typical middle-class child recognizes 22 letters of the alphabet, compared to 9 for a child from a low-income family

Percentage of Kindergarten Students Demonstrating Reading Comprehension At or Above Grade Level (2017)
Source: NCDHHS, Early Childhood Data Dashboard.
Asian, Non-Hispanic – 77.1%
White, Non-Hisp. – 75.0%
NC Average – 66.4%
Black, Non-Hisp. – 58.7%
Hispanic – 53.7%
American Indian – 47.1%

What do you make of the data?
safiyah jackson: Reminds us of the persistent challenge of racial disparities where the most marginalized communities fare worse. Hope we can shine more light on the problem and solutions. There are research-based solutions: targeted universalism (universal strategies with targeted investments in Black communities).

Cindy Boger: The end goal of the Partnerships for Children is school readiness and success. Parents are their children’s first teachers. Our work giving parents knowledge & support can be really impactful to move the needle on those numbers, especially literacy. 

LaKeisha Ross-Johnson: We have positivity & hope. Put the numbers into perspective – what percentage are those groups of the whole population? Important to keep having conversations like this to get the truth out there; the data doesn’t lie. What do we do with this information now?

What are parenting education programs? What role do they play in improving outcomes?
safiyah jackson: They are one of several universal strategies. Supporting new moms at the most vulnerable time; professionals working with parents in the home or at community centers/schools; investments in maternal and mental health. These programs create a trifecta of benefits: children, caregivers, and the interaction/bonds between them. This is a critical priority that we should be investing in, and too many families don’t have access.

Overview of program in Catawba County:
Cindy Boger: 3 programs using Parents as Teachers curriculum, all about building relationships. Whole family working together, building on strengths and giving them protective factors. Giving concrete support, making connections, sharing resources. Development-centered parenting: mental and physical health of child, issues in discipline, transitions. High retention rate in program. Set up for prenatal through kindergarten.

Importance of child-parent interactions:
Cindy Boger: Programs emphasize the importance of language/literacy, using terms/examples that are easy for parents to understand. This info isn’t necessarily intuitive. We share lots of information about milestones – letting parents know what a child is capable of doing. Helping them with their expectations.
Triple P programs – promotes child social, emotional and developmental strengths, supporting parents in understanding what’s expected/appropriate, giving them tools to have self-efficacy.

Benefits seen through work in Catawba County:
Cindy Boger: Seeing benefits in school readiness through yearly screenings. Confident parents can share their skills with family and friends and become leaders.

What did you learn when you were in the program and what impact did it have on you?
LaKeisha Ross-Johnson: I became pregnant as a junior in high school. To have a place I could go, a judge-free zone, and somebody who would walk me through that process, was super helpful. I’m always wondering, am I reaching the goal? Having worksheets was helpful. Reassurance that everything is okay. As a student, having someone holding you accountable to continue your education. I went to college and had my daughter with me and still had that support to walk me through a time when I felt overloaded. 

What are you doing with your second child that you learned to do with your first child?
LaKeisha Ross-Johnson: I still have my notebook from 20 years ago of the developmental activities that I did with my first child. It was like second nature the second time around. I was very confident even though it was 16 years later. I knew I still could call on the Partnership for Children, support and resources.

Are we seeing similarly positive results statewide?
safiyah jackson: Yes. Tend to see positive outcomes in parenting education, knowledge and skills. Tools and connections prove that it’s an effective way to support young children and caregivers.

What has been the impact of COVID on the delivery of these programs?
Cindy Boger: Immediately following the shutdown, started doing virtual visits. Quickly learned many different platforms – WhatsApp, FaceTime, Zoom, Google Meet, etc. Have continued to provide group connections (yoga, mental health supports) mostly virtually. Virtual visits have given even more power to the parent – we tell them how, and then they do it. It gives them more confidence, leading to closeness and interaction. 

How are you engaging parents who don’t have access because of the digital divide?
Cindy Boger: School system is supporting us with hotspots. We got permission to use any platform, including phone calls, which everyone can do. We also did drop-offs with basic materials (crayons, paper, glue) so they could do activities at home.

How easy is it to access these kind of services?
Cindy Boger: Just need to call and get a referral in. Work closely with hospitals, schools, department of social services. There may be a waiting list but we’ll at least get you on the waiting list.

In a post-COVID world, what’s needed to have a bigger impact?
Cindy Boger: More funding for more parent educators and Triple P programs. Want to start play groups, particularly in areas of disparity. More personnel.

On-going effort to strengthen parenting education in our state; why was it started and what do you hope to accomplish?
safiyah jackson: Too few families have access or not enough range of options. To expand access and provide choice, we need to align these programs to provide seamless engagement. We started an effort last year to develop a “state system building plan” – a roadmap thinking about outcomes and goals we want to work toward as a state to expand parenting education as a universal solution.

How did this current patchwork situation arise?
safiyah jackson: Federal, state, local dollars drive the opportunities. More well-resourced counties tend to be the first to get parenting education programs. Importance of targeted investments; need to look at the racial distribution across the state to ensure that solutions benefit Black and American Indian families.

Describe the world we’ll have when this plan comes to fruition.
safiyah jackson: We’ll have a workforce of parent educators equipped with skills and resources to be responsive. We’ll have little to no barriers to families. Long-term, we’d have more parents like LaKeisha who feel more equipped. We’d see reports of better health.

What’s needed to make it a reality?
safiyah jackson: Commitment from state and non-profit organizations. Sense of collaboration across agencies. More federal, state, local investments to fund these ideas. De-stigmatize parent education, normalize help. Even without funding, we can talk about this to create momentum.

As a board member of the Catawba County Partnership for Children, how does that sound to you?
LaKeisha Ross-Johnson: As a board, looking at the ROI – we’re starting to see data on children who have been part of programs since their early childhood – we know that this works. “For a person who wants to see their communities flourish in the future… then now is the time to invest in programs like this…” Investing now keeps us from having to pay the price later. 

Anything else?
safiyah jackson: We can celebrate that in Dec. 2019, NC received federal funds to invest in expanding universal home visiting. Over the next 3 years, DHHS, Smart Start and partners will be working to increase families who have access. Let’s keep talking about parenting education. Let’s normalize that it’s a universal opportunity to invest in young children.