Parenting, Child Development, and Home Visiting: A Promising New Model
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How can we best serve the needs of homeless or at-risk young mothers and their children? Preliminary evaluation findings from the Strengthening At-Risk and Homeless Young Mothers and Children Initiative show the promise of home visiting and other interventions. Funded by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, the Initiative is being piloted in four sites across the nation to identify best practices for improving housing, health, and child development for homeless and at-risk young families.
“My two-year old is very smart, and he’s helpful, but he doesn’t talk. So I’m trying to get help for him. They’re helping me with him, and he’s getting occupational and speech therapy,” reports a young mother. She and her son are participating in a new project called the Strengthening At-Risk and Homeless Young Mothers and Children Initiative, funded by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.
The Initiative is being piloted in four communities across the country. An evaluation of the Initiative is currently being conducted to gain insight into best practices for improving housing, health, and child development for at-risk and homeless young families.
The Initiative is driven by local partnerships between agencies to help meet the multiple needs of homeless or at-risk mothers age 25 or under and their children. Each site includes a child development or child welfare agency and a housing/homelessness agency in addition to other partners. Local sites offer a wide range of services, including housing, child development, family preservation, mental health, substance use, and support for survivors of domestic violence.
The evaluation documented the first year of implementation at three of the sites: Strengthening Our New Generation (STRong) in Minneapolis, Minnesota; Hope & Home in Pomona and Pasadena, California; and Strengthening Young Families in Antelope Valley, California. A fourth site, Family Assertive Community Treatment (FACT) in Chicago, Illinois, was awarded funding one year after the other projects, and was still in development during the first year of the evaluation.
Preliminary evaluation findings suggest the Initiative may have an impact on the well-being of its clients. Important lessons learned in the first program year include:
The value of home visiting service delivery. Each site adopted a home visiting service model, meeting the client wherever she is living for most services. This could be her own home, an emergency shelter, transitional housing, or doubled-up with family or friends. Home visiting removes barriers to accessing services, like the need to arrange transportation and child care. Service providers report that they are better able to assess clients’ situations by observing them in their own environments.
Participants report wanting to “become better parents.” Mothers enrolled in the program shared that they never “learned how to be a parent.” Many grew up in challenging environments, or in the child welfare system. Participants described not knowing how to interact with their children, or what to expect from their children.
One mother told evaluators that the program’s home visits helped to answer her questions about her daughter. “They [service providers] tell us my daughter is going to be crawling soon or that she’s going to be teething. They tell us what to expect.” She reported that gaining this knowledge was the most helpful part of the program. Her stress eased as she was able to increase her knowledge of her child’s development. She gained a new source of reliable information, and no longer had to parent solely through trial-and-error.
Participants describe positive changes in their children, including developmental, emotional, and academic improvement. One mother stated that before the family moved into permanent housing, her young daughter was often anxious. She would try to feed her mother at meal times, and express concern if the mother did not eat. “It’s just like she was worrying like she was the adult,” said the mother. Now, the family lives in their own apartment, and the young girl is less consumed with worry. She is more interested in playing, and expresses fewer concerns about her mother’s well-being.
Participants who have attained permanent housing find that it positively impacts other areas of their lives. Mothers reported that gaining permanent housing reduced overall stress and helped them improve interpersonal relationships. Some participants reported that they were able to focus on other priorities, like pursuing better employment and educational opportunities. Others stated that their relationships with other adults, particularly with significant others, have improved.
Participants value their relationships with program staff. Mothers indicated that their Initiative worker is one of the few people they feel they can talk to about difficult issues. “Some of them have been in our shoes and that’s what I like about it. They understand where I’m coming from,” shares one mother.
The first year of the evaluation suggests that the Initiative is supporting clients in a variety of ways. In the next year of the evaluation, Initiative staff hope to determine what elements of each project are particularly effective. Descriptions of these successes will help program planners and service providers to better support homeless and at-risk families nationwide.
Read the complete evaluation report of the Strengthening At-Risk and Homeless Young Mothers and Children Initiative. The evaluation of the Initiative is being conducted by the National Center on Family Homelessness on behalf of a Coordinating Center that includes the National Center on Family Homelessness, the National Alliance to End Homelessness, and ZERO TO THREE: National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families.
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