My head is swirling! I’ve just returned from another marvelous National Smart Start Conference sponsored by the North Carolina Partnership for Children. The 2014 Agenda offered 2 keynotes, 6 Featured Sessions, 76 workshops, and plenty of opportunities for networking. There was something for everyone working in early childhood education and family support programs. You can take a look at workshops offered within the following conference tracks by following these links below.
- Early Care and Education
- Early Childhood System Development
- Early Childhood Health
- Family Support and Leadership
- Public Engagement and Advocacy
- BUILD Initiative
The opening Keynote featured Al Race, Deputy Director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. In his presentation he reminded us, through videos and expert messaging, that early experiences are the most active ingredient in building babies’ brains, health and long-term development. No matter what set of genes babies carry when they arrive in our world, “serve and return interactions” between babies and their significant caregivers support their brain development, especially during the early years. Caregivers have the opportunity, not only to buffer children from adversity, but to help them differentiate and learn to cope with the three levels of stress they may encounter –positive, moderate, and toxic stress. Al Race offered us a visual image, a seesaw of how the positive influences can be enhanced to outweigh the negative influences. This points to the importance of implementing strategies to build resilience to counter-balance adversity through actively teaching parenting skills and building executive function in parents and children.
Beyond the keynote, let me share with you some highlights from this great conference.
North Carolina Smart Start is developing a statewide outcomes data system to prove the value of their services. The Smart Start Data Advisory Group (Session SS3) reported on their work in developing outcomes and selecting measures for core services. Smart Start is a statewide organization of 77 community partnerships serving 100 counties in North Carolina, led by the North Carolina Partnership for Children. It has been a model for many early childhood systems in other states. This data system initiative is funded by a federal Race to the Top Early Childhood Challenge Grant. Data Advisory Group representatives from across the state have come up with a framework for partnerships to report on the major service areas: Raising Quality Care & Education, Supporting Families and Advancing Child Health. We’re delighted that the KIPS parenting assessment was selected as a recommended tool for measuring parenting practices. Considering the cuts in public funding Smart Start has experienced in recent years, and the stiff competition for public and private funds, the participants in the session (mostly Program Coordinators and Evaluators) appreciated the need and the strategic timing for documenting the positive changes they are making in parents’ and children’s lives.
Supporting and Reaching – That One Kid! (Session 300) attracted a standing-room-only crowd. Maybe that’s because many of us have been worried about how to help “That One Kid” in our homes, classrooms or neighborhoods at one time or another. Diane Alexander of Smart Start of Mecklenburg County, Ariana Shahinfar of UNC-Charlotte, and Elaine Liberto of Thompson Child & Family Focus conducted the session. They equipped participants with background information on development/disruption of attachment through early relationships, differences in perception and capabilities between typically developing children and those with Autism Spectrum Disorder and then facilitated the participants in working through a case study entitled One Kid Sid. Once again, a visual image of an iceberg, helped to illustrate that the child behaviors we see on the outside are supported or aggravated by the inner characteristics and resources a child experiences in himself, family and community. Armed with descriptions of children with atypical behaviors and an extensive list of strategies for reframing and changing that One Kid’s behavior, we broke into small groups to devise interventions. The list included strategies such as restructuring the classroom environment, developing visual and auditory cues, providing kinesthetic supports, offering teacher and/or peer support, and accessing speech/language or occupational therapy to help the child in coping with sensory processing disorders and changing behavior. This workshop brought us to a better understanding of why children may show a variety of concerning behaviors in the classroom or at home, and the numerous strategies for supporting children in learning new skills and forming relationships with adults and other children.
In one of the Featured Sessions, A New Support to Family Support and Engagement- What Will It Take? We heard discussions of how to collaborate, blend and access resources from one another to go beyond the silos of funding for family support and education programs. Of particular note, Jayne Singer, Clinical Director of the Child and Parent Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, gave a brief overview of the Brazelton Touchpoints Approach to Family Engagement. She noted that Touchpoints is not a stand-alone intervention model or curriculum. Rather it can cross models to offer a framework - the “how” of delivering a local intervention, for how to reach out to and engage parents during children’s spurts in development that may disrupt family life and relationships. These can be reframed as opportunities to join families in deepening their parent-child relationships and their relationships with practitioners. The Brazelton Touchpoints Center at Children’s Hospital Boston has partnered with the Harvard Family Research Project in developing the Office of Head Start’s National Center on Parent, Family, and Community Engagement. which promotes evidence-based best practices aimed at strengthening families and communities in order to support growth and development of young children. No matter which silo you report to, the PFCE Framework, webinars, videos, guides and other professional development materials are worth exploring and easily accessed on their website.
Finally, I conducted a workshop on the 9Ways Parenting Assessment Strengthens Early Childhood Programs (Session 401). To illustrate the 9 Ways, we took a sneak preview of KIPS and viewed videos, outcome data and heard user success stories from KIPS users across the US. Small groups of participants were asked to select their’ top 3 picks from a list of the 9 Ways that parenting assessment would most benefit their programs, staff and families. They voted using dots on the groups’ top benefits. The top 3 compiled from the total group were:
1) Reinforcing parenting progress and confidence;
2) Tailoring services to parenting strengths and needs; and
3) Shifting staff focus from child to parent-child interactions.
I was surprised and delighted that documenting evidence of parenting outcomes wasn’t at the top of the list. That is the initial reason most programs adopt KIPS. Folks are looking for a tool to convince their funders and stakeholders of the value of the work they do with families. It was a pleasure to see a group focused mainly on using the KIPS information to help parents better nurture their children. Though during the discussion, the NC Smart Start attendees were interested in this aspect too, because they will soon be reporting parenting outcomes to their funders.
As usual, this was a high value conference! Be sure to look for the National Smart Start Conference registration in early 2015. If you attended the Smart Start Conference, please share your experience in the Comments below.
Assess What Matters to Children
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Nine Ways Parenting Assessment Can Make a Difference in Your Program.
Learn How Parenting Assessment:
1. Documents evidence of parenting outcomes
2. Tailors services to individual parenting strengths and needs
3. Monitors progress and guides service planning
4. Reinforces parenting progress and confidence
5. Serves as a parenting check-up as children develop
6. Shifts staff focus from child to parent-child interactions
7. Offers a common language for staff , families and programs
8. Builds reflective practice during supervision
9. Informs continuous quality improvement for staff and program.