It can also be demanding, stressful and even heartbreaking. And when a parent lacks the physical and/or emotional resources to meet a child’s needs for healthy growth and development, a child can be in real danger. While many services are available to help parents be successful, too often they aren’t easily accessible or understood, or they don’t meet all the needs of a parent or child. Agencies providing the services may not coordinate with each other, leading to gaps or duplication of services and inefficiencies. With limited resources available for data collection and analysis, there isn’t enough hard evidence of the effectiveness of their efforts.
This year, an ambitious and unique effort called Stronger Families, Stronger Futures (SF2) was made to address these issues.
The Village joined forces with the City of Hartford’s Department of Health and Human Services and community agencies to create a coordinated system of supports for parents and caregivers that ensures the optimal development, learning and health of young children. The initiative is funded by the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood, with additional support from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving and Fund for Greater Hartford.
“Our vision for this new system is to ensure that all families have access to the home-based services and supports they need, and that those services are fully embedded in other systems of care including health, mental health, early childhood services, and early care and education,” said Toral Sanghavi, The Village’s Associate Vice President and Senior Program Director for Stronger Families, Stronger Futures.
The foundation of the Stronger Families, Stronger Futures initiative is home visiting services. Why?
Research shows that negative early childhood experiences have a large impact on a child’s mental and physical health, even into adulthood. Home visiting is a powerful way to promote healthy and safe children, and strengthen families. Evidence-based home visiting can reduce the incidence of child abuse and neglect by 50 percent. Visits can also improve the health of the child and the parent, improve school readiness and achievement, reduce crime and domestic violence, and improve family economic self-sufficiency.
Home visiting services pair families with trained professionals to give families parenting information, resources and support during pregnancy and throughout the child’s early years.
Stronger Families, Stronger Futures brings together many of the agencies that have been independently providing services to parents in the Greater Hartford region. In addition to The Village and the City, the partners include two major healthcare systems (Trinity Health/Saint Francis Hospital and Hartford Hospital/Hartford HealthCare at Home), as well as the Hispanic Health Council, Catholic Charities – Archdiocese of Hartford, Family Life Education, and Urban League of Greater Hartford.
By improving coordination of the services provided by these agencies, the network will maximize expertise and resources to provide a high-quality spectrum of service options for expecting parents and families with young children in the 22-town Greater Hartford region.
“Now, more parents will have access to the parenting supports they need,” said Toral. “I like to say that now, there is no wrong door for families to enter the home visiting system. Through the two hospitals, new parents are made aware of and can enroll in the home-visiting services right after the birth of their child. Or, they can enter through any of the community agencies, through their OB/GYN or pediatrician, their child care center or by calling Child Development Infoline. It will truly be a seamless system.”
Services such as Healthy Start, Comadrona and the Maternal and Infant Outreach Program (or MIOP) will be available before a child is born. For families with children age 0-5, two evidence-based home visiting models will be used initially: Child First, available to the highest-risk young children and families, and Parents as Teachers for all other families. The Village has seen great results with families using these models, and is working with others to add additional models over time. In addition, telephone support will be available to low-risk families and group support will be open to all.
The Village’s successful Words Count program is also being integrated into home visits. This parent-directed, play-based program helps build the parent-child bond as well as the children’s vocabulary and conversational abilities, which are crucial to a child’s ability to learn and to be successful in school — and in life. (Funding from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, United Way and Fund for Greater Hartford have helped Words Count to expand.)
This new network will also integrate the work of six neighborhood-based Family Centers run by The Village, Catholic Charities, and Family Life Education and funded by the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving. In addition to providing early childhood education and parenting programs, the Centers also provide adult education, employment readiness, budgeting and financial management, behavioral health support, and links to resources to meet the family’s needs. Each year, the Family Centers serve about 1,500 families in some of Hartford’s most distressed neighborhoods.
“Staff from each of the agencies are sharing information and being cross-trained so they can help out wherever needed,” said Toral. “We’re becoming more efficient in a lot of ways. And there is a shared sense of ownership — we all depend on each other’s success.
“As someone who values transparency and the power of data, I’m excited that a key feature of the initiative is to measure, evaluate and continuously improve,” said Toral. “Together, The Village and the City of Hartford are building a shared database to collect, analyze and report data. The partners will use the data to make improvements in the home visiting programs and the network that supports this work.”
“While The Village helps children, adults and families at every level — from relatively minor problems to crises — we are increasingly focusing on prevention services,” said Galo Rodriguez, President and CEO. “The more we can help families build their resilience, create safe and nurturing homes, and foster their children’s healthy growth and development, the fewer crises families will experience. This reduces trauma and the lifelong impact that it can have.
“In fact, this past year, we invested $7.4 million in prevention programs compared to only $85,000 in 1995,” said Galo. “Stronger Families, Stronger Futures is another significant step in the right direction.”