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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Governor’s “Wisconsin Works for Everyone” Proposal Through the Lens of Early Childhood

 

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The WI Governor recently announced that a component of his “Wisconsin Works for Everyone” proposal, which is a part of his 2017-19 budget, integrates a focus on “strengthening families.” This includes two measures in particular, which could give early childhood a positive boost: (Below taken from the Governor’s initial press releases and Wisconsin Works for Everyone announcement).

“Eliminating the Child Care Cliff

  • For some families, the childcare subsidy program contains a large benefit cliff at 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Line (FPL). At the cliff, a family may lose far more subsidies than they gain from working more hours or taking a raise. This discourages work.
  • Reforms would eliminate the cliff by establishing a phase-out structure. Instead of losing all subsidies at once, working families would see co-payments increased by $1 for every $3 that a family earns over the 200 FPL threshold until the family’s contribution reaches full cost of care. Under our reforms, taking a raise would always pay for the purposes of childcare subsidies.”

“Invest an additional $3.9 million into the Family Foundations Home Visiting (FFHV) program. The FFHV focuses on six areas:

  • Improved maternal and child health
  • Prevention of child injuries, child abuse, neglect and maltreatment
  • Increased school readiness and achievement
  • Reduced domestic violence
  • Improved family economic self-sufficiency
  • Greater coordination and referrals for other community resources and support”

Let’s break down what these measures mean for early childhood and for families, and what they look like in action.

The first measure, an effort to eliminate the “child care cliff” addresses the issue that some families have participating in WI Shares, which provides child care subsidies to help lower-income families pay for quality child care. The “child care cliff” refers to the effect that occurs when a family goes from being initially eligible, (the family’s gross monthly income must be equal to or less than 185% Federal Poverty Level (FPL) for their corresponding group/family size), until their monthly income reaches 200% FPL, making them ineligible for subsidies. This means that if a family receiving subsidies has an increase in income—say that a parent gets a raise for instance, and their income reaches that 200% FPL, in the current system this family would no longer qualify for child care subsidies and could not receive assistance in paying for child care. This is problematic since many families still struggle to pay for child care even after they have reached that threshold. The cost they take on for child care as a result of losing those subsidies may be far greater than their increase in income.

This sets up a system that could discourage parents from seeking salary raises and promotions, and puts them in the position of having to choose between receiving child care subsidies they need now, and working towards upward mobility in their jobs, which may lead to long-term, sustainable income in the future that will eventually empower them to disengage from child care assistance and other forms of assistance. In some cases, if families lose this subsidy it could mean they can no longer afford child care, which leaves them with no care for their children and could put their job in jeopardy if they must take time off work to find a solution. The proposed change would modify this cliff to be a more gradual slope, by incrementally increasing the portion parents pay towards child care ($1 for every $3 earned over 200% FPL) while gradually decreasing the amount that subsidies cover, instead of taking all of the subsidies away at once. This gives parents the opportunity to better their work position and pay without having to worry about losing their child care subsidies until their income allows them to meet the full cost of paying for child care. Allowing this continued accessibility to quality care for families is incredibly important given the positive impact that quality early care and education programs have been shown to have for our youngest children, providing a developmentally supportive environment during a time when their brain is most rapidly developing.

The second measure, to invest an additional $3.9 million into the Family Foundations Home Visiting (FFHV) program, is equally encouraging. According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services website, FFHV currently serves more than 1,000 families statewide. Like quality early care and education programs, FFHV has been shown to have highly positive effects on the life-long outcomes of young children and their families. The FFHV program specifically seeks improved outcomes in at-risk families in the six focus areas identified in the Governor’s proposal, and does so through evidence-based home visiting that involves working with parents and children in their home environments. FFHV programming supports pregnant women and parents of children from birth to age five in engaging with resources that empower them with the knowledge to raise children who are physically, socially, and emotionally healthy and ready to learn. The Governor’s own Early Childhood Advisory Committee (ECAC) included home visiting in their recommendations for investment, noting that home visiting shows several promising outcomes including:

  • Reductions in the number of low-birth weight babies
  • Reductions in child abuse and neglect rates by 50 percent
  • Improvements in school achievement
  • Increased graduation rates
  • A return of up to $5.70 for every dollar invested in home visiting, due to reduced costs of child welfare, special education, grade retention, and juvenile justice.

(Above outcomes taken from ECAC report: https://dcf.wisconsin.gov/files/ecac/2015-ecac-annrpt.pdf)

This increase in funding for FFHV is a positive step for at-risk children and families who benefit from this program, but it is important to keep in mind that this state level increase comes after a significant 20% cut in federal funding to WI home visiting last year, from over $12 million to $10.4 million. This proposed state level increase would fill in this funding gap with a little over the previous federal funds, but still more funding is needed to support and expand the FFHV program beyond where it is now. Zero to Three provides resources and tools you can use in helping policymakers and professionals understand the importance of investing in home visiting: https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/series/home-visiting-supporting-parents-and-child-development.

Both of these measures were included in the Governor’s 2017-19 Budget proposal, which is currently going through the legislative budget process. Keep an eye out for the finalized budget that should be effective this year at the beginning of July, in line with the state budgetary cycle.

For further detail regarding these measures and the  Wisconsin Works for Everyone proposal, watch the 2017 Budget Address: https://walker.wi.gov/wiworking

(This article was originally published in the SFTA Q1 2017 Newsletter. Subscribe to our newsletter).

Introducing the YoungStar Micro-Grant Program & the Latest News in Micro-Grants

micro-grant-program-staff
There are some new names and faces behind the YoungStar Micro-Grant team as Supporting Families Together Association (SFTA) takes on the management of YoungStar micro-grants. Micro-Grant funding is available to programs that are participating in the YoungStar program and who have requested and are receiving technical assistance. These funds can be spent on materials, resources, and professional development opportunities that directly relate to a child care program’s Quality Improvement Plan (QIP). All purchase requests for micro-grants are processed and coordinated by the Micro-Grant Department: (*Reference the YoungStar regional map).

For general information questions about orders, timelines, or changes to a purchase plan:

For questions about returns or reimbursements:

Sarah Ross Berry, Micro-Grant Financial Specialist (sarah@supportingfamiliestogether.org).

For questions about policies and administration of the YoungStar Micro-Grant Program:

Sherri Underwood, Micro-Grant Manager (sherri@supportingfamiliestogether.org).

Assigning a specific Micro-Grant staff member to each YoungStar region for providers to contact has already noticeably decreased e-mails sent to the general micro-grant e-mail, showing providers are engaging more directly with the individuals serving their regions to obtain the information they need. This is not the only update the Micro-Grant Program has seen. Changes are being made to the YoungStar micro-grant process that you may have noticed if you are a provider receiving a micro-grant:

  • Reimbursements have gone out weekly to providers since SFTA took over the Micro-Grant Program in July of 2016. This allows providers to receive their money more quickly.
  • Programs will soon also be receiving their micro-grant materials faster, thanks to extra staff support that is being added to the micro-grant purchasing process (Chanel Ly).
  • The Micro-Grant Program is continuing to work to ensure that there is equal access to micro-grant materials and resources by working to translate materials into Spanish, and ensuring that Gloria is available to provide Spanish language support and Chanel is available to provide Hmong language support, as needed.
  • A focused effort is being made by the entire Micro-Grant Program to increase communications with Technical Consultants (TCs) regarding micro-grants. This means sharing micro-grant information on regular TC calls, including TCs on micro-grant e-mails to the providers they serve, weekly e-blasts to TCs and Micro-Grant staff taking more detailed notes regarding micro-grant interactions with providers that TCs can review. This gives providers the option to talk to their TC, who they know and trust, about their micro-grant.
  • Providers can access current micro-grant handbooks through their local YoungStar office by request (See the YoungStar Regional Map).
  • The Micro-Grant Program recently added a new vendor that providers can order discounted materials from, “S&S Worldwide,” to better meet the needs of school-age programs.

It is the Micro-Grant Program’s goal to make navigating the Micro-Grant Program simpler and more straight-forward for providers, and recent changes are a step in that direction. What all of this translates to out in the field is that child care programs are getting high quality materials and supports more quickly and efficiently to further their QIPs, which builds more developmentally supportive child care environments for children and their families. The Micro-Grant Program Staff are a crucial link in ensuring providers can use their micro-grants in a timely manner to support the quality of their programs and the children they serve.

Check out SFTA’s newest website addition, the Micro-Grant Program page for more information and resources on micro-grants.

This article was originally published in the SFTA Q4 2016 newsletter. Subscribe to our newsletters and other e-publications here.

Wisconsin Parent Cafés: Engaging Parents and Children

What is a Parent Café? Think of a cozy coffee shop or restaurant where you feel safe and comfortable, and it is easy to chat with the person sitting next to you. Parent Cafés guide parents to explore the Strengthening Families™ Protective Factors in a small group setting through a peer-to-peer learning process and individual self-reflection. Cafés provide a safe and nurturing environment for parents to have authentic, intimate conversations about their families and ways that they can strengthen their families and communities. Parents build enhanced social and emotional skills and learn how to proactively respond to challenging situations. Throughout this process parents acquire the leadership skills necessary to engage, train and lead Parent Cafés within their own community. Supporting Families Together Association (SFTA) is partnering with agencies in 11 counties across Wisconsin to offer Parent Cafés to Wisconsin parents.

If you are a member agency participating in Parent Cafés, another agency looking to start your own Parent Cafés, or simply an educator or a parent looking for some fun children’s activities that celebrate caregivers, check out the 3 simple ideas below! These pair perfectly with Parent Café themes– which are indicated– and can be used in a variety of other settings. Thanks to Kendra Scherg of Kimberly, for these fantastic activities and examples! Find more Parent Café activity ideas on our Pinterest board.

Cup of Calm ExamplesCup of Calm TextPrint: Cup of Calm Text

My Hug Examples

My Hug Text

Print: My Hug Text

Super Parent Examples

Super Parent Text

Print: Super Parent Text

Stay tuned to our website to find out where and when Parent Cafés are happening and how you can register to attend a Parent Café in your part of the state!

This Parent Café opportunity is available with funding from Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge Grant through the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families.