Workshop two – Parent Advocacy

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”
                                                                                                –  Alice Walker –

This is how Holly Major, support specialist for Pathfinder Parent Center began her workshop on parent advocacy at the Region VIII conference in Fargo, ND.  She had further expanded on a recent post regarding this topic, so I found it helpful to parents and families wanting to become more involved in their child’s lives.

Experiences are valuable and will go by very quickly.  A parent will always be a childs first and most important teacher and parenting is the most important job that every parent takes on.  Here are some tips to becoming an affective advocate for your child:

1 –  Understand your childs needs/abilities

  • Know the services appropriate for your child
  • Have high expectations for your child and the service they receive
  • Find the right accommodations
  • Use resources to learn more!

2 –  Know the Key Players

  • Find out who the decision makers are
  • How can you find their names?
  • What type of organization are you working with?

3 –  Know your rights/responsibilities

  • Read websites
  • Ask how service is funded
  • Ask to see laws
  • Ask questions – It’s likely others have the same question
  • Join a group

4 –  Be well organized

  • Keep records
  • Put everything in writing – email, letter, text, etc.
  • Keep a phone log
  • Have a meeting, keep accurate notes

5 –  Use Clear/Effective Communication

  • Keep your eyes on the prize! – Find the right services for your child
  • Listen and ask questions – What is right?
  • Turn negatives into positives
  • Speak clearly, don’t make people feel defensive
  • Much of communication is non-verbal, remember that when meeting face-to-face
  • Show respect, be thankful, manage your emotions
  • Apologize if necessary
  • Separate the person from the problem
  • Remember that not everyone has all the answers
  • Check your facts
  • Choose your battles

6 –  Know how to resolve disagreements

  • Talk to the right people first
  • Follow the formal processes for solving the problem
  • Remember, being fair is not about treating everyone equally, but about giving everyone what they need. 



Baby Brains: Importance of Early Attachment

The first workshop I had attended at the Region VIII conference was led by Sandi Christofferson and focused primarily on the brain research that is having such an impact on the social and emotional aspects of infant development. She provides us with some ways to positively encourage  the infant’s early attachment experiences that are the building blocks for the mental health and wellness of the child.
Sandi began her workshop by mentioning that it is never to late to have a happy child. It’s important to be aware of the process of attachment, what happens when things go right, when things go wrong (effects of early trauma) and the positive models of care for young children.

What people need to know

 • Brain Stem is apparent from very beginning ( 3 weeks) and is the first part of the brain to function
• Early childhood experience help make the connections between the stem and the other parts of the brain
• At birth, the brain has 100 billion neuron (potential for connections)
• At 2 years old, there are 1,000 trillion connections
• The brain gets heavier as cells connect and has great potential to develop as the baby grows
                 o The weight of the brain increases more in the first 27 months of life than it ever will.
                 o The brain is more malleable in the first 3 years than any other time during  its development. The experiences provided by Head Start are very important at this state of the development process.

What regulates the brain is the Quality and Quantity of relationship. This means balance between social, emotional and mental experiences. Attunement of the caregiver or parent is so important. They must have the ability to read and interpret cues/signs given by the child and respond to them in a timely manner. This allows trust to develop between the child and the caregiver. Some parents may not be experienced in recognizing these sometimes subtle cues and will need the caregiver to provide some assistance in recognition of these subtle cues.

Emotional Development
Edward Tronick, director of the Child Development Unit at Harvard University, studied interplay between infants inner world and outside world. He found that young children develop emotions before they begin learning, so managing their emotions becomes necessary. Infants are less able to learn if they are not able to control their emotions. Properly regulating a child’s emotions requires dedicated/informed individuals.

Some things that may interrupt attachment:
• Trauma of the infant brain
• Environmental safety
• Medical/birth defects
• Parental and/or caregiver mental health (depression, anxiety, etc.)
• Family support
• Loss of caregiver
One of the most interesting experiments relating to this process was done by Dr. Tronick. The still faced experiment shows a mother interacting with her child, and shows what happens when she “interrupts” interaction. Take a look.

Mrs. Christofferson continued on the topic of infant trauma.  Any, or all, of the following may be considered trauma:

  • Interruption in care-giving of some kind
  • Loud noises (yelling, throwing things, crying, etc)
  • Being unattended for a long period of time to cry
  • medical procedures
  • physical or sexual abuse

Some myths about infants related to trauma include:

  • They’re too young to understand
  • They don’t take it in
  • They don’t feel
  • They won’t remember

We are emotional creatures that think!  All experiences must pass through the brain stem and up through the various parts of the brain.  There are ways we can enhance this experience for our children, models of care we may all participate in.  They include:

  • Enhancing the attachment experience (modeling for parents as early learning specialists)
  • Holding and containing
  • Being a secure and predictable base for both parents and infants
  • Watch, Wait, Wonder – a form of child/infant and parent interaction
  • Attending to adult mental health (yours and the parents)

Thanks to Sandi Christofferson for the educational workshop.  Here are some links she provided that may be of some use:

It’s an ECE Stampeeeed!!

Usually when you visit Fargo, ND, the only stampede you’ll have to worry about is that of the NDSU Bison.  From Oct 13-15, however,  600+ Head Start parents, staff and administrators converged upon the city to learn, network and grow at the Region VIII Head Start Conference. 

Day one was filled with encouragement, music and education.  North Dakota’s entire congressional delegation joined the group for the opening presentation.  Senators Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad and Representative Earl Pomeroy took time out of their busy schedules to support the work of Region VIII, more specifically, North Dakota’s Head Start programs.  It was a very impressive sight to see.  Here is a little bit from Senator Dorgan.  I apologize for the poor quality.

Jana Stanfield

After a short break, we were entertained by the music and message of Jana Stanfield.  Jana is an award-winning recording artist, speaker, humorist and songwriter.  He music has been described as “Heavy MeNtal” or “psychotherapy you can dance to.”  She had the audience dancing, singing and smiling for much of her presentation, but she also shared many positive messages with us.  My favorite went along with her song, “I’m not lost, I’m exploring.”  If we see ourselves as explorers we won’t be expected to have all the answers.  Her recommendations:

  • Be open to learning new things. 
  • Let yourself have a beginners mind
  • Turn grief into growth

“We cannot do all the good the world needs, but the world needs all the good we can do.”
                                                                                                                    – Jana Stanfield –

Day 1 workshop information soon to come!!


Sustainability takes more than just money

I watched a video recently from the Community Driven Institute regarding sustainability.  It made me think of Head Start and the services we provide to families with children pre-natal to age five.  I believe the presenter said it best when she mentioned that sustainability takes much more than just money.   She discusses the need for a strong foundation, individual support and, eventually, monetary support.  Head Start providers are a great example of this phenomenon. 

Head Start families are all capable of becoming sustainable and breaking the cycle of poverty.  The almighty dollar is viewed as a key variable in the breaking poverty equation.  Many families (young and old) are unaware that, even with money, lacking a foundation and strong support group makes the road to sustainability very rugged.  Head Start programs provide the support these families need to take a step toward sustainability.  Head Start services help build the foundation for these families, teaching them fundamental concepts needed to live comfortably in today’s society.  They provide the parents with knowledge that they can then pass to their children when they are at an age of understanding and rational.  Without Head Start services, many families would not have the support or fundamental knowledge necessary to take that next step toward sustainability.

“When we change the way we see things, things change.”  Take a look at the video and let me know what you think.

How Parents Can Actively Get Involved in Head Start

You are a parent.  You’re working two jobs and taking night classes.  Fortunately, Head Start provides you with the peace of mind knowing that your children are receiving the valuable early childhood experiences they need to excel at the next level.  Most, if not all parents, however, want to be more involved in their childs lives.  If you have a child in Head Start, you may be wondering how this increased involvement is possible. 

That’s the real beauty of Head Start.  It not only provides you with access to valuable childcare services, but it provides you, and your children, with education.  Head Start programs welcome parents into the classroom and can educate them on creating an early learning environment in your home.  Here are a few more ways to become more involved within your Head Start program.

  • Communicate with Head Start staff/teachers
  • Attend Parent/teacher meetings
  • Serve on Head Start Policy Council or Advisory Council
  • Tell your story to individuals who influence how education or other programs for children operate. 

Parent and family involvement is as important in the classroom as it is out.  Head Start programs need parents to be engaged and involved just as much as the children do.  Get involved today so getting involved tomorrow is a snap.

Bridges to Benefits – A Great Resource!

Bridges to Benefits is a valuable resource for individuals and families in need of assistance.  Sponsored by the South Dakota Voices For Children and the Children’s Defense Fund of Minnesota, Bridges to Benefits is designed to improve the well-being of families and individuals by linking them to public benefit programs and tax credits. 

The service utilized a confidential and user-friendly Eligibility Tool making it quick and easy for South Dakota residents to determine if they may be eligible for public benefits.  The program pulls information from, and determines eligibility to, the following programs:

  • Child Care Assistance
  • Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
  • Energy Assistance (LIEAP)
  • Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)
  • Sales Tax on Food Refund Program
  • School Lunch Program
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (formerly known as Food Stamps)
  • WIC Nutrition Program
  • While the program will provide you with information about possible benefits and if you may be eligible, it will not automatically apply for benefits and will not guarantee you receive any benefits described. 

    Please take some time to check out this great resource.  You or someone you know may be eligible for support programs and tax credits.