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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.

Home visits help Gila River teen parents keep toddler on track

​​For Heidi Bruder, success comes in small doses. As the Teen Parent Case Manager for Gila River HealthCare, Bruder supports teen parents in the Gila River Indian Community with their educational and parenting needs. Teen parents sometimes have a rough time adjusting to caring for a baby and continuing their education, but one Gila River couple overcame a variety of obstacles, including the closing of their high school, and found success for their child. “They are probably one of my most consistent and reliable parents in the program,” Bruder said.

For several years, Bruder has worked with the teens through the Baby Smarts program, which is funded by First Things First. Baby Smarts provides teen parents with child developmental information and parent coaching. When the local high school permanently closed its doors in June 2015, Bruder helped Melissa Thomas, now 19, and her boyfriend research an alternative high school that would work with young parents. The parents soon achieved their high school diplomas. Bruder also began home visits with the parents, who are raising a toddler. The child is not identified for privacy reasons. Bruder continues to work with Thomas on activities that she can do to encourage their 2-year old child with language, motor, cognitive and social emotional development. For example, Bruder recently introduced lacing with beads and yarn to improve the toddler’s fine motor skills.

For Thomas, the twice monthly sessions help her feel confident in her decisions. “Like how to say no when (the toddler) can’t have what (the toddler) wants. And what to do when (the toddler) throws a temper tantrum,” Thomas said. “We work with (the toddler) on it.” The visits are paying off. Bruder recently observed the toddler in an Early Head Start class, which provides preschool for children up to 3 years old. The teachers there told Thomas that the child is ready to move forward. “The child is right on track developmentally,” Bruder said. “The child’s interactions with the parents are positive.

The child communicates well, especially when talking a lot is not necessarily part of the culture.” Support at home is also a factor. Thomas lives with her grandmother, so the toddler is being raised in a multigenerational home. “These two go home and the grandmother very much supports what’s being taught,” Bruder said. “Everybody is on board, which makes for a greater success for the child.”

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