Kandie Anton gave birth to her son, Joseph, two months before the COVID-19 restrictions started in Arizona. She was 22 and worried about being a mother for the first time. Her anxiety amplified with the added challenges the pandemic created with receiving services and finding support.
“I needed the right guidance to raise a newborn,” said Anton. “I felt like it would be a lot easier to know what to do, if I could directly talk to someone.”
Anton signed up for the Baby Smarts program, funded by the First Things First Gila River Indian Community Regional Partnership Council. The program provides a parent coach who visits the family in their home and teaches parents about early childhood development, breastfeeding, infant sleep safety, using car seats and other information. The coaches also connect parents to resources within the community, like the Arizona Healthcare Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) and the Arizona Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) benefits.
Cynthia Stone, a Baby Smarts home visitation coach, said the program helps parents of any age who need support and someone to turn to when the challenges of parenting become overwhelming.
“Many new parents don’t have their own family to turn to,” said Stone. “The younger parents are looking for an outside perspective and support to raise their children in a healthy way.”
Stone worked with Anton and her partner, Joseph Garcia, through weekly phone calls, since COVID-19 restrictions prevented home visits, to teach them about attachment and bonding with their child. She also coached the couple on how to communicate with each other about taking turns watching their child. Stone encouraged them both to read and sing songs to their son, even if it was during diaper changes.
“I taught them how the sound and tone of their voices is important for brain development,” said home visitation coach Cynthia Stone.
Anton said the program provided information on development stages, appropriate toys and how to play with her son.
“It gave me a heads up about the changes and growth to look for every month,” said Anton. “Knowing what was going on with his development made me feel less anxious and made things easier.”
Stone coached Anton on healthy foods to feed her son, how much to feed him and how often. She also helped her to prepare questions to ask during doctor’s visits and have parenting strategies to deal with challenging behaviors, like tantrums.
“It definitely helped us reduce our stress,” said Anton. “We can pinpoint what’s going on with him and communicate between us about what we need to do to help him.”
Now Anton and Garcia have a second son and continue to work with Stone.
“It’s been really helpful to have her there when I had questions,” said Anton. “It was very helpful with COVID-19. If either of my kids gets sick, but it’s not an emergency, I can text her questions and she gets back to me within the hour. She’s there when I needed someone right away.”