Veteran social worker Diane Lane has been in the early childhood education field for 19 years and has been a Home Visitor with Early Head Start for 15 years. In her experience, she has helped hundreds of families face the challenges of raising small children while living in poverty.
Tell us a little bit about Early Head Start and what it is that at Home Visitor does.
Early Head Start is a government funded agency that provides free childcare and parenting education for low income families in this area for children up to age three. We have two basic parts to Early Head Start – there is Home Based which is primarily home visiting for stay-at-home parents who receive an hour and a half home visit every week, and then we also have the Childcare option where we provide childcare so that parents can go to work or school. Those families have a home visit as well, but it’s just once a month.
What kinds of things do you do on a home visit?
We talk about the development of the child, we provide parenting education, we talk about nutrition, we talk about health and the importance of immunizations and checkups. We talk about dental care and we provide fluoride varnish. We set goals for the child that the parent wants to work on, and we set goals for the family. These goals can be things that the parent wants to accomplish like getting a job or going back to school. So we work with the family as a whole.
What would you say are some the biggest challenges that the families on your caseload face?
Healthcare. Especially for the adults in the home. The children will often qualify for Medicaid, but there’s a gap there where the parents are a lot of times without healthcare. Another issue is transportation in our area. That’s a really big challenge. And the lack of childcare is also a big challenge. Utility assistance and finding decent housing that is affordable are huge challenges as well.
Outside of the home visits, what are some things you do to help the families on your caseload?
Because of the resources that we home visitors know about within our community, we can hook them up with programs that they may not know about so they can meet their goals. We even do developmental screenings on the kids, so sometimes that can help lead us to making a referral to First Steps to get some early intervention in for their child’s development. We also tell families that they can apply for childcare assistance through the state that will pay for a portion of their childcare. There are also resources like WIC, Parents as Teachers, and The Alliance. Early Head Start also has a mental health consultant that we can refer families to, and we have training that can help us with families that are at risk for domestic violence. We also make a lot of referrals to area agencies like the Lafayette House and Legal Aid.
Based on your experience as a Home Visitor, what are some things you think could change in our community to make life easier for the families in Early Head Start?
I think if we had healthcare for everybody. That would make a huge difference. Healthcare that’s affordable and available to everybody in the community I think would make a tremendous amount of difference. If we had a decent wage. We have so many people in our program who work 40 hours a week and they still can’t afford to be self-sufficient working full time. So then they’re working much longer hours while still struggling to find a way to pay for daycare for all that time they are working. Public transportation of course is always a big issue. And the programs that are there to help families, for instance Medicaid and TANF and food stamps, I think that there’s a gap there that when parents begin to make a little bit more, those benefits can be decreased to the point of feeling they can never really be able to get ahead.
So do you think the Federal Poverty Line is too low and people are falling through the cracks?
Yes. Very easily.
What would you say is the most rewarding part of your job?
Being in a position to empower parents to do the best they can is very rewarding. Every parent strives to do a good job at parenting whether they’re the youngest teenager or have issues with drugs and alcohol or whatever their specific issues are. Every parent strives to do a good job and wants to be a good parent. I’ve seen some excellent teen parents.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Just the frustration that low-income parents have running into red tape with some of their public assistance. They’re having their applications for services getting lost, not being able to reach a case worker in person, 1-800 numbers that are not helpful. Language barriers are very difficult for families. We really see a need there and are really glad to take families that have language barrier issues. We strive to make the program valuable for them. We take a translator with us on our visits. We have all of our paperwork and our newsletters translated in Spanish. All of our developmental information is in Spanish too so they can benefit every bit from the program. And we are working in the classrooms. We have language assistants so the dual language children have a teacher in the classroom assisting that speaks their language.
When did you know that you wanted to go into this line of work and how did you become a Home Visitor?
There are a couple different things. I went into college with a Fashion Merchandising major, but I had a required Sociology class that I fell in love with and went way in that direction because it was so fascinating to me. I would say that Michael Moore has been a big influence to me and I think the work he does is tremendous. And most of all, because I was a young parent who faced these challenges myself. And I just really can relate to the experience of being a young parent or a parent in a low-income situation. I know it does not mean that you’re not every bit as great of a parent. (Editor note: The photograph above is of Diane Lane at age 21 with her first child.)
If you are a parent interested in being in Early Head Start, click here for information on how to enroll.
If you would like to write an article for JULIE about parenting in SWMO, pitch your idea at Julie.firstname.lastname@example.org.