K. Vilay: You are listening to the pArentZ Pod, the Arizona baby and toddler podcast from First Things First. I’m your host, K Vilay. Your child’s early years are really important. Ninety-percent of a child’s brain develops by age five, and being the parent of a young child can be challenging. But you don’t need to be perfect. There’s no such thing as a perfect parent. Just stay positive and be open to getting the information and support you need to do the best you can to help your little one learn and grow. They’ll only have one early childhood, right?
That’s what First Things First is all about. We provide funding for early childhood programs that support the healthy development and learning of children from birth to age five. Things like parenting classes and workshops, developmental screenings, and much more. These programs are available to families with young kids and communities across Arizona at no cost to you.
On this episode of the pArentZ Pod we’ll talk with two of my colleagues at First Things First-
to let you know all about the different early childhood programs we support. And we’ll also let you know how you can find the programs available near you. It’s easy.
Vince Torres is the Senior Director of Children’s Health and Family Support at First Things First and Christine Waldbeiser is our Family Support Specialist and also a new mom to a beautiful baby boy, which gives her an even better perspective into the kinds of information and help parents are looking for and how the programs funded by First Things First can help.
My colleagues from First Things First are joining me today for this podcast. Welcome, Vince. Welcome Christine.
Christine Waldbeiser: Thank you.
Vince Torres: Thank you for having us. We’re excited to talk about First Things First.
K. Vilay: So happy to have you here. Just wanted to say thank you. I really enjoy our work together and it’s so great to have you here today for the podcast. I also wanted to acknowledge, Vince, all of your work with family support and literacy and children’s health. And, Christine, certainly your work with family support as well. And you happen to have an eight-month-old baby, so you can speak from a parent’s experience as well.
So welcome. Thank you for being here today.
Christine Waldbeiser: Thank you.
Vince Torres: Thank you for having us.
K. Vilay: So at First Things First I feel like we have a lot to offer families. All kinds of things for parents, parent education at all different levels and information, and we also have children’s health and other early learning opportunities. Can you speak to that a little bit about sort of what as a parent if I’m struggling or I have questions about my child’s development, what is it that First Things First has to offer?
Christine Waldbeiser: So being in the field and working closely with our continuum of family support strategies which are available for families who are preparing for a new child or raising children birth to five, I had a lot of access to those resources as I was preparing for the birth of my first child, and was knowledgeable of the resources and things I needed to do before I even gave birth, such as look at childcare, look at what doctor I’m going to be sending him to,-
you know, of course thinking about his teeth, even though he’s not out of my womb yet. But all of these things that I knew I had to plan for, which was so helpful. So I was – at least I was physical-
K. Vilay: Intellectually prepared. [Laughs]
Christine Waldbeiser: -intellectual – that’s what I’m trying to get at. I was intellectually prepared, meaning I knew where I was going to take him to give birth, I knew what doctor he would see, and I knew what resources I had available at my fingertips when I did have questions in the moment. I didn’t realize quite how many questions I would have in the moment because I really thought, you know, “I know all this.” It was easy thinking about reading information on paper and knowing about all these great programs and knowing about child development and health, but really when you’re in the moment and it’s your child, I was questioning everything and I didn’t really fully realize how much I would question or how much I didn’t know until I didn’t know.
K. Vilay: Before we go into all the details about the programs I just want to acknowledge that First Things First is a funder of programs and a lot of times we’re working with local providers all across Arizona to provide the programs and services at no cost to families. So certainly that is a wonderful benefit, a wonderful opportunity. And again, we’ll talk a little bit more now about some of the details of the programs that First Things First funds and has to offer.
Christine Waldbeiser: Sure. We have a variety of strategies in family support, a variety of programs that meet families where they’re at based on their level of need. So for example, speaking from my experience, I did have access to a lot of information, I had prior knowledge of child development, but I realized that there were still points in time where I needed additional support, learning more about, you know, how to find a quality childcare center, how to identify or ask questions of a-
pediatrician that fits my needs. But I also realized in going through this process how important and how beneficial it was for me that I had access to basic needs and support, such as transportation, you know, family support, my own family, my colleagues. You know, the luxury of having information at my fingertips and being in the field, but also recognizing how challenging this would be for families who don’t have those basic needs met, who may not have steady income, who may not have access to regular transportation, just how challenging it would be for those families to access information and really get themselves prepared for raising a young child.
So we have services that, again, meet families where they’re at, meaning for parents who feel a little bit more prepared, who might just need some in the moment support, we have services like the Birth to Five Helpline or family resource centers that they can access as needed.
K. Vilay: Can I ask you a little bit more about the helpline?
Christine Waldbeiser: Sure.
K. Vilay: What’s that?
Christine Waldbeiser: Yeah. So the helpline, as you mentioned, is a free service available to all families and providers across the state of Arizona. They call the helpline to get their questions answered. It could be a question about “Where do I find a dentist?” or, you know, “My child is extremely fussy and not sleeping through the night. Help me.” And the helpline is staffed by early childhood professionals who are highly educated in the field of early childhood and can answer questions on the spot or be able to refer families and providers to more community-based concrete services in their individual communities.
K. Vilay: So you can just call a number and get some help from some folks. Even if you have just a very simple question like “When are my baby’s teeth going to come out?” [Laughs]
Christine Waldbeiser: Absolutely. And families as well as providers who serve families can call the helpline to ask questions. So professionals can be better informed about child development and be able to communicate or inform their work with families or they can call on behalf of a family.
K. Vilay: Oh, so what about if I’m a grandparent or a foster parent or can I call on the helpline too?
Christine Waldbeiser: Anyone who wants to learn more about early childhood or who works with a child, absolutely; it’s free to anyone.
K. Vilay: And, Christine, you mentioned also family resource centers?
Christine Waldbeiser: Yes. So we have a few programs such as family resource centers and parenting outreach and awareness that offer just general parenting information to families about early childhood. Family resource centers are a community hub that houses multiple resources and experts in early childhood that families can come to if they have questions or want to access information or referrals to other community services, as well as in-house parenting activities that the family resource centers offer. So that could be a playgroup, a parent-
child interaction group, could be a parent-focused class on a specific topic.
Something I’m personally looking into right now is CPR for infants. I am terrified of starting solids – I’ve started solids, but I’m terrified of making those – I’m just terrified of my child-
K. Vilay: Choking.
Christine Waldbeiser: -choking. So I’m also trying to make my mother-in-law go as well. But family resources can offer classes such as that, that focus on a specific topic. Or car seat safety is a big one that’s often offered through family resource centers as well.
K. Vilay: Well that’s good information. A lot of times parents struggle with getting car seats properly installed into their vehicles. That’s a really important safety measure.
Christine Waldbeiser: So the thing I just wanted to reiterate about family resource centers is they are community hubs located within communities, mainly in Maricopa County, that families can access and go for-
Information, resources, and also socialization opportunities with other families.
K. Vilay: Sounds like a great opportunity. I understand that they’re usually located within schools or libraries, and so when you’re referring to community hubs, that would be the place to go, right?
Christine Waldbeiser: Mm-hmm.
K. Vilay: Okay. And then if you could talk a little bit about home visiting too, home visitation with families. That’s another program that First Things First offers.
Christine Waldbeiser: Sure. So home visitation is a strategy that provides services for families in their home. So they are early childhood experts and professionals that come and actually visit families in their homes to bring to them information and support on raising their young child. So again, as I was going through my own journey, realizing, you know, I do have access to a car, I do have access to all of these resources in an urban setting that are accessible to me, but there are many families who based on, you know, additional challenges,-
would benefit more from having someone come to their home to provide them that support.
K. Vilay: I would imagine too, not only because of transportation or sort of ease of having somebody come to me, but also as a parent I might be struggling. Like you mentioned feeding time, for example. And I’m really struggling; my child doesn’t want to eat what I’m offering or they’re really fussy. I can imagine that a home visitor would be really helpful if they come and help me, you know, feed my child at mealtime.
Christine Waldbeiser: Mm-hmm. Yes. And they can come and model some techniques and strategies to help that parent if they’re struggling with a certain time of the day even.
Vince Torres: And I think what’s interesting with the home visiting work that’s taking place is what these professionals do is look at if there’s challenges or issues that a parent is noticing with vision or hearing or development concerns such as communication or issues with mobility, like crawling or walking. If a parent is noticing this then within that-
home visitation these professionals can provide a level of evaluation and referral to address some of the concerns that they’re noticing.
K. Vilay: That’s an interesting point. We do have families that are sort o concerned or parents that are concerned about their child’s development; they may be worried that they’re a bit delayed or they’re not doing what the parent thinks they’re supposed to be doing.
Vince Torres: Exactly. Mm-hmm.
K. Vilay: Could you talk a little bit more, Vince, about developmental screenings? As a parent, when I do have those questions, what then?
Vince Torres: Right. Well, a lot of that I think too is it’s hard – it’s difficult to identify those, right? So I think parents are – there’s a level of confusion, and going through the developmental stages is something that maybe parents aren’t aware of. So through the home visitation professionals and then through some of our other strategies, like developmental and sensory screening, there are levels of these evaluations that can be performed out at community centers and other venues throughout the-
communities that people live in to help parents understand when a child is supposed to crawl, when are they supposed to walk, when should they be communicating effectively and making sure that they have eye contact. These are all the things that I think parents are wanting information on, and so these services help provide that level of education and knowledge.
K. Vilay: I often hear from families too a lot about behavior. So even from early on, “Ugh, the baby’s crying all the time. I can’t get him to stop. I’m exhausted. What do I do?” And even when they’re in into toddlerhood, again, that example of they’re fussy, they don’t want to eat what’s offered or they are fussy at certain times of the day or having tantrums and that, you know, when you’re a toddler or a preschooler. And so I hear from a lot of parents too, you know, “Is my kid out to get me? What’s going on with this behavior?” Right?
Vince Torres: Well, I think many of the programs we offer really help with that support. And again, going back to the family support systems and back to the birth to five helpline, I think there are educational tools and support to help families through some of those more trying times.
K. Vilay: The other part I wanted to talk about too, so Christine, both you and Vince have mentioned quite a bit about doctors and dentists, and certainly I think from a First Things First perspective we work a lot in partnership with the medical dental community. So there are several programs that we offer through First Things First funding and local providers as well regarding both medical care and dental care. But we don’t provide those services directly. Can you explain a little bit about what those programs are?
Vince Torres: Absolutely. First Things First has many oral health programs throughout the state. I think many of these programs are focused on parenting education, you know, when do they get their first tooth. And many people may not understand when that is.
In addition to the parenting education on oral health, a lot of these programs provide a level of checkup for your child’s teeth. And in addition to that, they can apply a protective layer of film called fluoride, and this fluoride is extremely effective at preventing tooth decay.
I think in addition to those oral health services many of the valuable and crucial components of the oral health programs is really their ability to get people connected to a dental home, ultimately seeing a dentist. In my experience working with oral health programs and in the past, some of the more fulfilling moments were hearing stories of parents leaving a dental appointment, one, because their child was out of pain, cavity-free, and ultimately leaving with a big smile. And I think that’s what these programs are meant to do.
Oftentimes in the past a lot of families would have to see care for individual issues. So if there are developmental concerns or if there are oral health concerns,-
behavior concerns, a lot of times you’re having to seek the treatment and education independently and without a level of coordination between these providers. So a lot of what we do here at First Things First is help mitigate a little bit of that confusion and that process and how that is a burden on the families.
So one of our programs, which is called Care Coordination, does provide a level of assistance that helps connect patients to different providers based off of their child’s needs.
K. Vilay: So if I have a little one and I’m bringing him to the pediatrician and I’m struggling with certain things, the doctor’s making all kinds of referrals; I know he’s making other appointments for us. It sounds like there’s a care coordinator or someone who comes in and helps families make sense of all that and help them get to their appointments, get to the other support services or even prescriptions-
or anything that the doctor’s recommending.
Vince Torres: Absolutely. That’s exactly it. I think that a lot of that can be – it’s very difficult to navigate how to schedule appointments I think sometimes. There are, as Christine said, transportation issues that families may be facing; maybe sometimes there’s a language barrier. So I think oftentimes these care coordinators will spend time with families to really understand the needs of the family and the child and get them to the services and the care that they need to receive.
K. Vilay: Oh, so it’s like wraparound, helping me get to what I need when I need it.
Vince Torres: Yes, exactly. Absolutely.
K. Vilay: Great. Okay. I’m going to switch gears a little bit. And come back to the issue of childcare. So as soon as you find out you’re pregnant these days it seems like the almost immediate thing is to think about childcare. What does First Things First offer around childcare?
Christine Waldbeiser: We have a program called Quality First, which is a signature program on First Things First that supports early childhood centers across the state in providing quality childcare for children.
And part of that work is helping inform parents about what a quality childcare center looks like and when to start looking. There’s a really handy checklist which I utilized in doing my tours with childcare centers to say, you know, “Are teachers on the floor with children? Is the environment friendly and bright for children? Are there a variety of toys to play with? What is their process if a child gets sick or injured?” those types of questions that help parents inform their search for a childcare that work for them and meets their needs.
And also on the Quality First website you can search for programs in your area by zip code to start to see which programs are enrolled in Quality First, meaning which programs are assigned a star rating which shows their commitment and dedication to quality.
K. Vilay: So when we’re talking about quality essentially what we’re talking about is the support for early learning, for those youngest children. So even as an infant, toddler, or preschooler,-
childcare is an early learning experience. So it sounds like we support the teachers, the caregivers, those childcare centers. Vince, you mentioned there’s over 1,000 across the state that are part of this Quality First program. So again, it sounds like to me that we really are just supporting and encouraging early learning in those childcare settings.
Vince Torres: Absolutely.
K. Vilay: I really appreciate all the work that you’ve done to sort of create all of this programming for young children and families across the state. It really sounds like parents, if they have questions or concerns they have all of these opportunities in their local communities; voluntary, free programs, no cost to the families. They can get to programs or services, get their questions answered, participate in services or programs where they need it, when they need it, and however they need it. They can call on the phone it-
sounds like, they can receive information. And they can also work with early childhood professionals, whether it’s in a parenting class or in the home or even through a medical practice.
Children learn and grow so quickly, especially in the early years. It goes by so fast for families. Christine, I can imagine the first eight months has been like that.
Christine Waldbeiser: Snap.
Christine Waldbeiser: Yeah. A blur of joy and questions.
Vince Torres: Yes.
K. Vilay: And certainly as a parent you have your own set of knowledge and beliefs. And so I think for a lot of families too, they might have those questions about what to expect from their child. And we talked a little bit about the behaviors, and so part of that too is parents and adults understanding what child development is and is it really appropriate for my two-year-old to have chores or to sit at the table for two hours or whatever those kinds of things that families are-
struggling with. And if parents can participate, receive information, or participate in programs, have a better understanding of child development and what resources and information and programs are out there, they can best make the informed decisions about how to raise their children.
Vince Torres: Absolutely. We hope that parents continue to seek some of these First Things First resources to help them through these early childhood development years.
K. Vilay: Thank you, guys. It was really great to have you in today.
Vince Torres: Thank you for having us.
Christine Waldbeiser: Thank you.
K. Vilay: This is the part of the pArentZ Pod when we talk about how you can connect with programs and services in your Arizona community to get more information or to get some one-on-one support. It’s easy to find the early childhood programs funded by First Things First near you by going to the Find Programs section of our website. You’ll see it right on the homepage at FirstThingsFirst.org. Just type in your zip code and search for all the different types of programs and services-
available near you. You can click to e-mail the programs you’re interested in or give them a call to learn more about how you can participate. And remember, these programs are available at no cost to you. Take advantage of the parenting workshops and classes, home visiting programs, family resource centers, health programs, and more. These are helpful, friendly, and free programs for parents of babies, toddlers, and preschoolers that can help you support your child’s healthy development and learning.
Again, look for the Find Programs section of our website at FirstThingsFirst.org. You can’t miss it.
Announcer: The pArentZ Pod is brought to you by First Things First. First Things First is committed to supporting the healthy development and learning of Arizona’s young children from birth to age five. For more information visit us online at FirstThingsFirst.org.
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