Welcome Baby: Family Connections, Inc.

In a Sheboygan hospital, first-time parents welcome a daughter. Before leaving for home, they receive a visit from a Welcome Baby Resource Specialist, who offers community resources and child development information related to their needs as mother_babyparents. At the time, the parents decline home visiting from a Family Resource Center of Sheboygan County Parent Educator, and head home with their newborn. When a Parent Educator calls them in a few weeks to follow up, the parents are thrilled to hear from them. Since leaving the hospital, they have questions about their baby’s development, breast-feeding, safe sleep, and a myriad of related topics. The family is provided with additional resources, and decide to participate in Parents as Teachers to receive regular home visits, as well as post-partum screenings for the mom and developmental screenings for their daughter. These parents are now connected to needed resources and support that they may not have been aware of otherwise, that will support them in their roles as new parents.

This is one example of the Welcome Baby program in action, which SFTA member Child Care Resource & Referral agency Family Connections, Inc. has been a part of since its inception last November.

“Family Connections has always provided resources to child care providers and parents in our community,” said Family Connections Welcome Baby Resource Specialist Karen Apitz. “Participating in Welcome Baby was the next step, so that we are there for parents in a new way.”

Welcome Baby came about as a program of the Sheboygan County Community Partnership for Children (SCCPC), which was created in January of 2016 through the leadership of United Way of Sheboygan County (UWSC), following community conversations about how to promote and strengthen existing early childhood supports for Sheboygan County parents. UWSC is the backbone of the initiative and continues to lead collaborative efforts with more than 15 community partners to implement the project, including Family Connections.

The basic function of Welcome Baby is to provide visits from Resource Specialists to new parents, and to parents with infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) to offer them resources and supports based on their needs. Aurora Memorial Medical Center and St. Nicholas Hospital have mothers checking in to give birth complete a brief screening to determine their needs, then fax the screening results over to Family Connections, Inc., who conducts an immediate Welcome Baby visit. A Resource Specialist or Parent Educator follows up with each family within a month of the visit. The initial goal of the program was to complete at least 200 Welcome Baby visits in their first year. As of early September 2017, over 300 visits were completed, exceeding the initial goal a few months before Welcome Baby’s 1-year anniversary.

“It is a really exciting time, seeing how this type of program can grow so quickly,” said Corrissa Frank, SCCPC Coordinator from United Way of Sheboygan County. “It has been amazing to see us all come together and to be able to develop this great initiative. Perhaps the most important innovative feature of the program is our commitment to letting the community lead.”

United Way of Sheboygan County works with participating Welcome Baby agencies such as Family Connections, Inc. to track data collected through Welcome Baby visits that will help determine future directions for this program, by identifying common needs and trends that arise from visits to be more responsive to parents.  Future goals also include expanding to provide visits for all parents of newborns, and even prenatal services, to serve more families in the Sheboygan area. Additional funding resources are currently being explored to continue moving the Welcome Baby program forward.

Stay tuned to the SCCPC site for a fall 2017 video release featuring the Welcome Baby program!

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Farm to Early Care and Education: The Parenting Place

In June of 2016 The Parenting Place, a Child Care Resource & Referral agency in La Crosse, WI, was awarded funding through the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to implement Farm to Early Care and Education (Farm to ECE) practices with local child care programs in La Crosse County. The Parenting Place is working collaboratively on implementation with Community GroundWorks and the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families. Wisconsin is one of four states working with the Kellogg Foundation as part of a larger project on behalf of Farm to ECE aimed at children ages 0-5, to increase access to fresh and local food options for children in early care and education, and to build children and families’ knowledge about healthy eating in care and at home.

“Right now, our obesity rate is so high in children and they have lost the connection ofHGNS - Garden where their food comes from,” said Farm to Early Care & Education Program Coordinator Emily Doblar, adding that the accessibility and low cost of fast food means some children don’t even frequent grocery stores often. Farm to ECE is “really just giving them a sense of community and excitement about healthy food while educating and engaging families makes a huge impact.”

This project is intended to run for 2 years, and The Parenting Place has chosen five child care sites for initial implementation of this project through a detailed application process. Emily currently works with these five sites. In the second year of the project another five sites will be chosen through a similar application process.

Emily not only works closely with the five participating child care programs but with local farmers, Master Gardeners, greenhouses and trainers like Community Groundworks to build lasting connections for these programs to access fresh, local food and provide hands-on experiences for children in care, such as field trips to local farms or having a garden onsite.

“Relationships are an important part of this work in so many aspects,” explained Emily. “We learn from our grant partners, child care sites and from the local farmers and growers that are working together to make this program a success.”

Each child care program has completed a Farm to ECE self-assessment identifying potential for growth in areas including purchasing and serving fresh and local food, family engagement, onsite gardens, and hands-on learning. From these self-assessments, programs have worked with Emily to create a Farm to ECE Action Plan, identifying steps to take and materials they need to meet their Farm to ECE goals, including ways to sustain those changes after the project with The Parenting Place is completed. The concept for both the self-assessments and the Action Plans are loosely based on similar tools used in YoungStar, Wisconsin’s Child Care Quality Rating & Improvement System. The Parenting Place provides partial funding for programs to meet their goals in a sustainable manner, such as child-sized gardening implements, tools to prepare local produce, field trips to farms or farmer’s markets, resources to host family engagement events, or gardening workshops for child care providers.

cowsThe connections Emily is building between early educators and local farming/gardening experts, has helped to overcome some of the unique challenges that ECE programs face in building Farm to ECE into their daily routines. Unlike many WI K-12 schools, child care programs are far more varied in the number of children they have at one time, making it difficult to meet minimum ordering requirements for farms and other fresh food vendors. Some child care programs have very limited budgets to work with, are in areas where it may be unsafe to leave for field trips, or have very little green space or light exposure for a garden. Each program also has their own philosophy that guides the care of the children and may affect how they approach Farm to ECE implementation. Furthermore, there is the need to consider cultural diversity across programs and families and how the Farm to ECE approach might look a little different to meet the varied needs of family and program cultures. For instance, Emily is working with a Hmong preschool teacher familiar with Farm to ECE to engage with Hmong farmers and is working with Community Groundworks to revise the Farm to ECE materials and approach to be a better fit for this purpose. Emily has been able to work with each program from where they are starting and what they need, getting local farmers and other resources in place to support program efforts.

“A lot of [the farmers] are really excited,” said Emily, noting successes like one local beef farmer who is on the board of a Farmer’s Market and would like to offer a family night with a petting zoo. Other organic growers have offered to send e-mails every few weeks to program sites to let them know when food is available at a reduced cost. Several farmers are open to having programs out for field trips, and a few have even offered to bring learning opportunities from the farm onsite for programs that are unable to travel from their building. Participating providers are also enthusiastic and have started to meet and discuss ideas and resources amongst themselves, a collaboration they plan to continue.

The end goal of this 2-year project (which concludes in May of 2018) is to impact approximately 250 children through the selected 10 child care program sites, by creating lasting changes in how these children and child care programs approach and understand healthy, local eating. Programs will be working to have sustainability plans in place so that they can continue integrating Farm to ECE into their daily routine beyond this project. Lessons learned from this project and the methodology used can then serve as a model for other ECE sites nationally, and could be used to inform future regulations, quality rating criteria or accreditation standards.

This story was originally published in the SFTA Q2 2017 newsletter. Access the full newsletter here, or sign up to receive our quarterly newsletters.