Catawba Valley Healthy Families Director’s Letter to Rep. Blackwell

Parents, child care providers, and business leaders from counties across North Carolina have been writing letters to their legislators explaining the need to maintain funding for Smart Start. Below is just one example.

Hello Representative Blackwell,

First, let me thank you for your service to the people in our county. I know you have, and continue to work hard, for the people of Burke County and our entire state.

I had a nice conversation with your assistant, Dixie, yesterday afternoon. I regret I was unable to talk to you personally; however, I truly enjoyed talking with Dixie. She suggested that I e-mail you.

I called and am writing because I am gravely concerned that there may be funding cuts to early childhood programs in our state such as Smart Start, More at Four, and others. I have over 26 years of experience working with children and my experience ranges from pre-birth to grade 12. I am a NC, Masters level (G-licensed) Special Education teacher and have taught children in the public school as well as lived with and served them in group homes, in a daycare supervising a developmental day program, and in an early childhood intensive home-visiting program serving families pre-birth to five years that I had the opportunity to develop 11 years ago and have since directed. In my group home experience serving troubled youth 11-17 years in a program which was a community-based alternative to training school and which focused primarily on the child but also on strengthening the parent-child relationship, I remember frequently thinking how nice it would have been if someone could have reached those families and provided intensive support at the time the parents were birthing those babies and bringing them home to get them off to a better start. Perhaps with the right kind of support at that very vulnerable and highly important time in their lives, i.e., pregnancy and the early years following birth, they could have gotten off to a better start and avoided many of the problems that got them to the point of out of home placement. Smart Start, More-at-Four, and other early childhood programs are working hard to do just that. And we really need to preserve and strengthen these efforts in any way we can. Our society is leaving its next generations with a load of problems to work through; so, our society will need to raise up a lot of bright, critical thinkers. We owe it to them to do anything in our power now to help them grow up to be healthy, contributing citizens. And, as you know, that starts well before Kindergarten.

In my experience, I have seen the great work accomplished on behalf of children and families through Smart Start, More-at-Four, and other early childhood programs. There was a time when I was much younger that I was not an advocate for day care. However, since I’ve worked in the field a while serving Burke County’s overburdened first-time parents who have the most intensive needs, I have come to realize that it definitely has its place, particularly for those children born to parents who are impoverished in so many ways (financially, educationally, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, etc.). Those children really benefit from and need the added support of their community. And, our society really needs them to have it or we all suffer.

Additionally, a sample of the outcomes of the program I currently direct, Catawba Valley Healthy Families, demonstrate the effectiveness of programs supported by Smart Start money. These include: 1) the graduates of the CVHF program show significant change between pre- and post-test scores on a standardized measure of positive parenting attitudes and practices which suggest a substantial shift away from attitudes and practices that have been associated with child maltreatment; 2) when compared to their age peers, children whose families graduated from CVHF exhibit higher levels of
social and emotional competence as measured by the frequency with which they display social and behavioral challenges (Cullen, JP., Ownbey, JB., & Ownbey, MA. The Effects of the Healthy Families America Home Visitation Program on Parenting Attitudes and Practices and Child Social and Emotional Competence. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal. October 2010) ; 3) the rate of Rapid Repeat Births is significantly less for CVHF participants (18%) than for a comparison group (30%) (Ownbey, M., Ownbey, J., & Cullen, J. The Effects of a Healthy Families Home Visitation Program on Rapid Repeat Births. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal. Under Review.); 4) 100% of the families completing the CVHF program show a reduction in risk factors present at the time of enrollment; 5) In SFY ’08-’09, 100% (99/99) of participating parents/couples reported regularly reading to their babies/children on average 5.46 days per week; and, 6) During SFY ’08-’09, out of 60 individual parents who have graduated from the CVHF program and who represent 51 families, there were no substantiations of abuse/neglect as determined by data obtained by the Burke County Department of Social Services using the NC Child Protective Services Central Registry.

As you and other legislators make the really tough decisions regarding how to spend NC’s money, I firmly trust that you will do all you can to preserve and strengthen programs that look out for our most vulnerable children helping them to grow healthy and strong, equipped to take on the challenges that lie ahead of them.

Thanks for ALL you do,
Jeannie Ownbey, Director Catawba Valley Healthy Families

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