Colorado voters, the state General Assembly and governor have all sent a clear message: it is critical to invest in our youngest children. We agree.
Investing in children during the first five years of life pays back big dividends in the form of family stability, child health, and school readiness. We also know that parents are a child’s first teacher, and it is critical that they have the tools they need to help their children develop, learn, and grow so they realize their full potential.
Colorado has made bold investments in early childhood including its new universal preschool program and Department of Early Childhood. These bold investments are essential for the healthy development of Colorado’s children.
But they are not enough. Colorado needs to fill in the gaps to help parents become the best caretakers and teachers their children will ever have and to ensure that every child — even those who do not attend preschool — is ready for school.
Parenting is one of life’s greatest joys. It can also be isolating, hard, and exhausting. And during the past two years, the pandemic amplified every challenge parents face. Many caretakers have felt trapped in their homes, lacking their usual network of extended family and fellow parents. They’ve been juggling needy newborns, busy toddlers and overwhelmed school-age kids with very little outside support or encouragement.
Throughout Colorado, nonprofit organizations are implementing comprehensive home-visiting services that provide support to help parents raise children who are safe, healthy, and ready to learn.
One model local nonprofits use is Parents as Teachers. The model provides parents with child development knowledge and parenting support, provides early detection of developmental delays and health issues, prevents child abuse and neglect and increases school readiness. By collaborating with local organizations, we are able to match families with parent educators that speak their language, share their culture, and support their growth.
The program makes real, measurable differences in the lives of Colorado’s families that are often the furthest from resources and support. In fact, outcome studies show that the Parents as Teachers home visiting model significantly reduces the risk of child abuse and neglect, in large part by promoting parental resilience and strengthening what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls protective factors.
Last year, 1,791 children were served by Parents as Teachers in Colorado – far short of the need for these services. In order to truly meet the needs of Colorado’s families, we need bigger investments in the program and strategies that strengthen the workforce. Parent educators are the key to ensuring families enrolled in the program are able to succeed.
As Colorado continues to work toward expanding support for home visiting, we also need our congressional delegation to step up and ensure the reauthorization of the country’s largest investment in home visiting – the Maternal Infant Early Childhood Home Visiting program. Colorado receives close to $8,000,000 each year from this program, allowing more than 3,500 parents and children to be supported through home visiting programs.
This program is set to expire Sept. 30, and we are asking Colorado’s delegation to support reauthorizing the program on time. As Colorado, and the country as a whole, slowly claws its way out of the pandemic and parents continue to deal with related financial and emotional repercussions, it is absolutely critical that we not only continue but also increase funding for home visiting programs.
If there was ever a time that parents needed support and a safety net, it’s now. With the increase in the number of families living in poverty due to far-reaching effects of the pandemic, recovery for families in the post-Covid world will demand even greater support through home visiting.
Last month, Parents as Teachers parent educators from across the globe gathered in Denver for the organization’s Annual International Conference. This forum provided an opportunity for Colorado to share information about the state’s incredible investments in early childhood. As we celebrate the success Colorado has achieved, we remain committed to continuing this work and looking for strategies to support parents and reach all of Colorado’s children to prepare them for the first day of kindergarten.
Rhonda Fields, of Aurora, represents Senate District 29 in the Colorado Senate, and is the assistant majority leader.
Constance Gully, of St. Louis, is president of Parents as Teachers.
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