Parents as Teachers Addresses Growing Needs of Vulnerable Families

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Parents as Teachers offers early childhood professionals resources, training and tips for serving families in real-world situations.

Parents as Teachers, the trusted resource for organizations and professionals in early childhood education, has seen an increase in the number of impoverished families that its affiliates serve. In response, the organization has strengthened its approach and developed new training opportunities to help early childhood professionals understand the unique challenges families in poverty face and to help them find ways to incorporate child development activities into their daily lives.

According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, one in five U.S. children live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level. Raising young children who are healthy and school-ready under these conditions can be challenging. Parents as Teachers offers tips to help early childhood professionals interact with families living in poverty:

1. Do encourage parent-child interaction. Often, families in crisis are emotionally drained, and parents may not have the energy to devote to quality parent-child interactions. It is important that early childhood professionals help parents carve out time to spend playing with their children, a critical part of helping them learn skills that prepare them for school.

2. Do keep information digestible. Most parents living in poverty worry everyday about basic necessities like food and shelter, so do not overwhelm them further by sharing too much information or information that is not relevant to their current situation.

3. Do reinforce family routines. Routines are comforting, providing stability for families who may not always have stability in other areas of their lives. Professionals should help parents establish routines with everyday activities that include time for interacting with their children.

4. Do support parents from their perspective. Parents usually know what their family needs, and early childhood professionals are responsible for sharing the appropriate resources that can help families with their own unique issues.

One way that Parents as Teachers helps families break the cycle of poverty is by preparing children for success in school. “When children in poverty had at least two years of services from Parents as Teachers affiliates, combined with a year of preschool, 82 percent were ready for school at kindergarten entry – a level identical to non-poverty children who had no Parents as Teachers or preschool experience,” says Cheryle Dyle-Palmer, executive vice president and COO of Parents as Teachers “Programs like Parents as Teachers are helping to narrow the achievement gap between children in poverty and non-poverty households.”

In order to better equip parent educators, those who bring curriculum directly to parents through home visits, Parents as Teachers offers a number of training opportunities that take a deeper look at issues like poverty and other struggles families face.

The organization recently invited Bill Strickland, president and CEO of Manchester Bidwell Corporation, to address nearly 700 hundred parent educators. Strickland has helped thousands of disadvantaged kids and adults rise above poverty through a jobs training center and community arts program in Pittsburgh.

“As Parents as Teachers strengthens its focus on serving the most vulnerable families, Bill’s message is particularly pertinent to us,” says Dyle-Palmer. “Just as Bill has given opportunities to impoverished youth and adults, we are dedicated to equipping families with knowledge, resources and tools so their children – regardless of their socioeconomic status – grow up healthy, safe and ready to learn.”

Dr. Susan B. Neuman, director of the Michigan Research Program on Ready to Learn, addressed attendees on the topic of poverty at the 2011 Parents as Teachers Conference. Neuman’s presentation detailed research gathered through the Ready to Learn research program, which explored disadvantages children in poverty face, including limited access to books and materials to help prepare them for school.

Parents as Teachers also offered its parent educators the opportunity to experience the struggles that many families face through a poverty simulation presented by the Michigan State University Extension. By participating in an interactive role play of a month living in poverty, parent educators find themselves homeless, jobless or without means to feed their families − challenges that are common among many of the families they serve. Participants are expected to report to work, make payments on their home, and visit social agencies for assistance with food stamps and other programs. As they go through the simulation, many participants experience real-life situations, like the loss of a job, that force them to make difficult decisions, such as whether they will use their remaining funds to pay the electric bill or feed their family. By experiencing these harsh realities of poverty, they develop a greater compassion and understanding for the challenges many families face and are motivated to be part of the solution. To see the reactions of parent educators who participated in the poverty simulation, visit

“Parent educators who experience the poverty simulation are much more understanding of the stark realities these families face and incorporate what they’ve learned into their work,” says Dyle-Palmer. “We also hope these educators bring their insights back to their local communities and become community advocates for greater outreach and support for families in poverty.”

Through their services, Parents as Teachers advocates for children everywhere, believing that all young children and their families deserve the same opportunities to succeed, regardless of any demographic, geographic or economic considerations.

About Parents as Teachers
Headquartered in St. Louis, Parents as Teachers champions the critical role of parental involvement and early intervention in the early childhood development and education continuum. Parents as Teachers supports a network of professionals and organizations who serve more than 300,000 families across the country and around the world through a proven parent-education model. For more information, visit

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Maggie Brandt
Standing Partnership
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