Great Start Georgia Helps Strong Reading Habits Start Right at Home
We are often asked, what does a Get Georgia Reading partner do exactly? Here is an example of how one group, Great Start Georgia, operated by the Georgia Department of Human Services, Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS), is creating the conditions necessary for all kids to be on a path to reading proficiency by the end of third grade. This story was collaboratively written by the staff of DFCS’s Office of Prevention and Family Support.
Great Start Georgia is a statewide initiative, sponsored by the Georgia Department of Human Services, Division of Family and Children Services. This initiative is designed to promote safety, health, and well-being for children, birth to age 5, and their families by providing screening, parenting information, and referral to appropriate services to all families.
The Great Start Georgia (GSG) initiative incorporates the federal Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) Grant Program for Georgia, which was established to support state implementation of evidence-based home visiting programs designed to improve outcomes for at-risk children and families. Currently, the state’s MIECHV-funded sites implement the following national models: Parents as Teachers (PAT), Healthy Families America—locally called Healthy Families Georgia (HFG), Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP), and Early Head Start Home Visiting (EHS-HV). The primary service strategy for the families most at-risk within Great Start Georgia is evidence-based home visiting (EBHV).
Research has shown EBHV programs to be effective in improving outcomes in the areas of maternal and child health, child safety, school readiness, family and community safety, and family economic self-sufficiency. Families, linked with these voluntary programs, receive a wide range of services and supports during family home visits, which are offered during pregnancy and throughout their child’s early years of critical development.
Although the goals of home visiting and content of services can vary based on the model, in general, common goals and services include a combination of child abuse and maltreatment prevention, improving maternal and child health outcomes through parenting and health-care education, and increasing school readiness through early intervention and education services for young children and their families.
One area of focus of GSG is to improve early childhood literacy. Home visitors across the state work to promote early literacy by helping parents understand the importance of talking to their children beginning at birth and encouraging parents to read early and often to their children.
This process begins in the prenatal period, if possible, and continues throughout the program. Parents are taught brain-building and language acquisition activities during home visits and regular parent group activities and workshops. Additionally, parents enjoy participation in book distribution programs, usually involving free books given out at each home visit, and are encouraged to access books and services through the local public library.
One example is GSG’s home-visiting site, Rockdale County Parents as Teachers (PAT). This program partners with the local Rotary Club and the FERST Foundation to provide a free book to all enrolled children, every month until the age of 5. Parents and children look forward to receiving this book, which serves as a teaching tool incorporated into each home visit.
The PAT team in Rockdale also promotes literacy during their monthly Parent Seminars. This parent workshop is open to the community and focuses on the Georgia Early Learning and Development Standards (GELDS) developed by Bright from the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) to assist families and providers in understanding typical development for children from birth through age 3. Parent educators in PAT also partner with the local library and collaborate with the children’s librarian to encourage participation in Toddler Times and other children’s activities. The intent of these interventions is always to communicate a message that talking and reading to infants and young children beginning at birth is very beneficial.
Roll and Read Event on September 18th 2015. Rotary club members read to the students at Rockdale’s Early Learning Center. Families enrolled in PAT were in attendance as well.
Another Great Start Georgia site, Parents as Teachers: Dalton, also works to increase literacy among their families, beginning with addressing reading on the first visit with a family. They find that most parents have not really thought about the connection of literacy and learning. One of the roles of a home visitor is to show parents how easy it is to incorporate reading and literacy into their lives and how it will help to improve all of their lives.
In the Dalton program, one mother in her mid-20s with three young children talked about the changes she had experienced by following a suggestion from her home visitor to make reading three times a week to her baby one of her first goals. The father’s work sometimes required him to go out of town, so the relationship with the home visitor was very important during this time.
The mom was eager to learn and happy to have someone with whom she could communicate. When asked what she had learned while in the program, one of the first things she mentioned was reading to her children and the importance of taking time with each one of them. She talked about the positive changes that each member of the family had made and how it had impacted everyone for the better. She shared that by taking time to read and talk with her children, their behavior had improved. She also said that she spoke more thoughtfully and directly to her children, and that they responded in kind.
The mother liked the changes she saw in her family. She shared that her husband had become more involved with the family and the children. Instead of coming home and playing games on the TV to unwind after work, he now comes home and begins to interact with the children by taking them outside or quietly spending time with them inside. Another big change the family made was to sit down and eat dinner together, thoughtfully discussing their day.
The mom was just amazed at the difference in her family since she accepted home visitation from Parents as Teachers: Dalton. She was especially thankful for the children’s books that she received at each home visit, and kept coming back to the importance of this and how excited everyone was to share these books. This one tool provided an opportunity to help this family change in many positive ways. The Parent Educator and the PAT curriculum inspired this family and left them with a renewed appreciation for the difference home visitation can make within families and within communities.
Parents as Teachers: Dalton mother reading to her child.
“We understand that early childhood years serve as an important foundation for subsequent literacy development, and Great Start Georgia is proud to be a partner with the Get Georgia Reading Campaign and to assist in fostering early literacy throughout our state,” said Carole Steele, Director of Office of Prevention and Family Support. To find out more about the Great Start Georgia initiative, please visit www.greatstartgeorgia.org today.