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Region Stories

These stories illustrate how early childhood programs and services funded by First Things First make a difference for young children and families in communities across Arizona.

Buckeye caregiver provides developmental support for daughter and others

It was the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and Raquel Escobar was finding that her newest baby was going to challenge her a bit more than her first child. 

Baby Naiya struggled to calm down by herself and was crying most of her days. Escobar, knowing she needed to find ways to support Naiya, did what a parent might do during a time of social distancing and lockdowns. She went to Google. 

Escobar started looking for workshops and child development information that would help her learn how to calm and support her newborn. It was during this search that she came across the Family, Friend, and Neighbor program, which provides access to high-quality, culturally responsive early care information, services and support for families. The goal is to improve the quality of care and education that children receive in unregulated child care homes.

The First Things First Southwest Maricopa Regional Council funds the Family, Friend and Neighbor program through Candelen to empower caregivers with tools to encourage healthy development in the children in their care. 

Escobar was soon contacted by a staff member named Carmen who would soon become a pillar of support for Escobar and Naiya. Little did they know that in just a few short months, that internet search would lead to providing developmental support and child care for not just Naiya, but other families in their Buckeye neighborhood. 

For months, Carmen and Escobar connected virtually, and Carmen shared information about brain development and language development, along with ways to support Naiya’s development while being at home. Carmen told Escobar to watch Naiya, and look for developmental markers to ensure she was on track. 

Shortly after joining the program, Escobar was approached by a neighbor in need of child care. Like most families, her neighbor’s access to child care was severely limited, as the pandemic had closed the doors of many child care centers. Soon, Naiya had a friend joining this in-home setting, and Escobar found herself as the main child care provider for her street. 

“Parents were scared because child care centers were closed and waitlists grew,” Escobar said. “My neighbors felt comfortable enough to trust me with their child.” 

Escobar soon learned how important it was to stay up-to-date on the latest child development information, as now she was supporting various children with different needs, in addition to her daughter. 

Escobar found it incredibly valuable that all the information she received from Candelen and Carmen was provided in Spanish because English was not her first language, nor was it the primary language for the children in her care. 

“Being able to have books around the house for Naiya and other children to read is truly wonderful,” Escobar said. “The program has provided everything I need for these children from books and crayons to information on child development.” 

Escobar shares that Naiya, now 3, won’t stop asking to read or be read to.  

“She is showing an interest in reading books, and she asks me all the time, ‘Mom, read please,’” she said. Niaya now picks up books to read in her own words, flipping through the pages and using her imagination to create a story.

The positive developmental outcomes she is seeing with her daughter and other children have inspired Escobar to pursue a degree in early childhood education. But it’s the support that she’s been able to provide Naiya, now 3, that she’s most happy about. 

“Because of the tools and resources available to me, I know that I am using what is most developmentally appropriate for these children, and what will be most successful for them to prepare for kindergarten. These children are meeting milestones and showing an early love for learning.”

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