The perfect resource for your child’s success.
Kids Don’t Come With Instructions
Since the mid-’80s, Parents as Teachers has been serving Jefferson City, bringing child development, parental skills, and family well-being directly to the homes of Jefferson City families.
The program was founded in Missouri, beginning with a pilot program in 1981. Following a successful pilot, the Missouri Legislature allocated funding for Parents as Teachers in 1985, allowing all schools in Missouri to operate the program, according to the Parents as Teachers National Center. Today, the program is in all 50 states. Christopher “Kit” Bond, former senator and supporter of the project, describes it as “Missouri’s greatest export.”
“Parents as Teachers is a parent education and support program that is designed to help parents as their children’s first and most influential teachers so that children will be able to develop, learn, and grow to reach their full potential,” says Katie Epema, the Jefferson City Parents as Teachers coordinator.
Since 2011, Katie has led initiatives and training to increase parental confidence and involvement in their child’s developmental years. By using a three-pronged approach to deliver programming, the Parents as Teachers programs makes sure that participating families receive the training they need. The programming is delivered in the home where “the kiddos and families are most comfortable,” Katie says.
The parent educators bring with them relevant activities, screenings, and training for prenatal to kindergarten-age children. All parent educators are school district staff who have completed 40 hours of Foundational and Model Implementation training through the Parents as Teachers National Center to become certified as parent educators, and receive a minimum of 20 hours of on-going professional development annually.
No One Visit Is the Same
“Some might be focusing a lot on child development, sometimes we might focus a whole lot on family well-being, and sometimes what we planned is not what ends up happening. That’s because we tailor [the focus] based on each family and child’s needs on that particular visit,” Katie says.
In the program, parents set goals for both themselves and their children while parent educators take notes on child development to encourage growth in areas of slower development.
Making the Most of Family
“We bring information about what children might be able to do at different ages and stages . . . their milestones with their cognitive development, their motor development, social-emotional development, and their language development,” Katie explains. “Then we really partner with parents on what skills they see their children being able to do.”
The takeaways for these visits are to ensure that, even when the parent educator is not present, learning is still occurring and the parent is empowered to lead their child in their individualized growth and development process.
“(After) every visit, there is something useful that I take away from it,” one parent says. “Overall, I feel that the tools our parent educator gives us to play with our children and help them learn have been very useful. The activities that they demonstrate are often very simple and don’t use any expensive toys or extravagant materials, but they are so effective and engaging.”
“It’s a nice reminder that simplicity and creativity go a long way,” one parent says.
To begin, a parent educator must look for where a child should be on a developmental spectrum using standardized screening tools, assessing what they see in visits or what parents share with them. Parents as Teachers also conducts health, vision, and auditory screenings annually to record a health snapshot of the child to evaluate in addition to developmental, social, and emotional screenings. For Parents as Teachers, it’s about building a positive relationship between home life and school.
“Some of our families haven’t had a positive experience with school growing up. We really try to foster that,” Katie shares.
To connect home and school, parents work on activities with their children. Through this, not only is the school-home relationship improved, the parents are also able to increase their parenting capacity.
“Parents are their children’s first and most influential teachers, so we really want that partnership with our families to meet their needs,” Katie says. “We’re not there to tell people what to do. We’re there to brainstorm and problem-solve together. And I think everybody has questions about their children at some point in time.”
To amplify their approach, Parents as Teachers strengthens the parental connection to the Jefferson City community. By connecting parents to necessary and supplemental resources, they hope to build up the family unit as a whole.
“We also focus a lot on family well-being because we know whatever I going on with the family can impact the child’s development,” Katie says. “And that’s the part of the visit where we share information about local community resources. Resources can be as broad as, ‘Did you know the library has storytime and has this great program called One Thousand Books Before Kindergarten to encourage reading?’ Or it could be what we usually think of as resources like food pantries or things like that. We also work on that part with the families — to set those goals that they have for themselves and their children and help them succeed in meeting those goals.”
The Missouri River Regional Library and Daniel Boone Regional Library are two of the closest partners of Jefferson City Parents as Teachers. Additional resources are shared in a monthly newsletter, including access to diapers from the Capital City Diaper Bank, which can be brought to monthly home visits for families in need.
Events like Kidsfest and organizations such as the Samaritan Center are key to getting the word out about the program, allowing Parents as Teachers staff the ability to connect with families, showcase activities, and direct parents to additional resources. Open events on child development, some featuring guest speakers, draw new families to enroll as well.
The program was also quick to adapt when COVID-19 closed schools, knowing parents would be playing an even more crucial role in the development of youth with closed schools and modified remote learning.
“This year, with COVID, most of our services are offered virtually . . . through a video conferencing platform like Zoom, but we’ve used FaceTime, Skype, Facebook video messenger, WhatsApp — whatever families have available,” Katie says.
In 2020, more than 3,000 visits were conducted with 13 staff members, an outcome Katie highlighted as impressive given the circumstances.
And a family doesn’t necessarily have to enroll in the traditional home visit program to receive the services provided. Parents as Teachers also has families that just attend events or child developmental screenings to ensure everything is going OK. In cases where there are signs of possible delay, the parent educator can connect families to resources that will assist them.
“We’re there for the kids, of course, but we’re really there to support the parents in that role,” Katie says.
Interested families can connect with Jefferson City Parents as Teachers by visiting www.jcschools.us/pat for virtual home visits and program resources. All services are provided for free.
To become involved as a parent educator, individuals can look for employment opportunities at www.jcschools.us.
Want to be a parent educator? Interested in virtual home visits or program resources? Visit www.jcschools.us.