02/26/06 — Head Start strives to help parents as well as children

View Archive

Head Start strives to help parents as well as children

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on February 26, 2006 2:07 AM

Head Start does more than prepare young children for school, say officials at WAGES, which oversees the program.

Through organizations such as Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina and grants, parents can also be educated and supported as they work to develop tools as leaders.

"We understand that what we do with children is going to affect the community, but what we do with parents is going to affect the community and the parents as well," said Wanda Becton, health services manager with WAGES. "We're trying to bring some of the family values back into the environment. We're dealing with families who come from broken homes and deal with many struggles."

Offering a lifeline of hope that there is something better for them and providing encouragement to keep on track with their goals and pursuits are vital, Ms. Becton said.

WAGES, like many agencies across the state, participates in the "Circle of Parents" program, which is like a support group for parents. While they vary in nature, locally there are three types -- for families of children with special needs, for the Spanish/Latino population, and one focusing on male involvement in the lives of a child. A fourth one, "Moms R Us," for pregnant moms with children enrolled in Head Start, was added a few months ago.

Before anyone can become a leader in the community, it is important to do so in one's own home, Ms. Becton said. The first step is to develop parenting skills.

"We really like giving parents an opportunity to serve in a meaningful role and assist them in developing their skills as leaders in our community, in their churches, in their homes," said Daniel Hooper, male involvement/parent involvement coordinator at WAGES.

The male involvement program was introduced in 2001. In that time, Hooper said he has witnessed a boost in fathers supporting one another in their parenting roles, while also becoming more ambitious about their employment status. Some have also participated in training and taken on leadership roles, he said.

"We have participants come and participate in the meetings, and they tend to develop a personal interest ... sometimes discovering that they have the ability to be a leader, to develop self-esteem and build their character," he said. "Often, they naturally move toward wanting to be leaders and finding themselves just influencing others."

Parent leaders drive the meetings, and many have gone on to serve on panels at state conferences or locally by assisting in training and other leadership roles.

"We're giving them the tools and providing them the support to practice those skills," Ms. Becton said.

Parents typically become resources for one another, said Valerie Wallace, developmental disabilities case manager for WAGES.

"They become the expert by their experiences," she said.

Maria Ochoa and Maria Carpenter are co-facilitators of the Circulo de Padres support group for Hispanics, begun in 2004. Many have been pleased to have a meeting in Spanish, Ms. Ochoa said, as opposed to attending a meeting in English that is translated into Spanish.

"It's helping out the Hispanic parents not only through parents but we try to educate them in the community -- making doctor appointments -- anything they need," she said.

As a result, parents have become better advocates for their children, she said.

"A lot of parents don't have any idea of what questions to ask when they go to the doctors or about the child's disability," she said.

Educating parents to take a more active role in the lives of their children has had a ripple effect, said Ms. Ochoa, with many still attending even two years later.

"They have been teaching the new parents this year what the meetings are about, and they build friendships," she said.

Ms. Wallace said it has been refreshing to see parents start to reach their potential.

"It's one thing to tell somebody that you can be a leader; it's another to actually believe it," Ms. Becton added. "When you empower parents to make a difference in the community, then you start to see things change for the good. Things don't stay status quo."

Though the support groups are currently limited to parents of children enrolled in Head Start, the long-term goal is that Circle of Parents groups will also expand to include the public, Ms. Becton said.

And all with one purpose in mind.

"It's going to lead to people in our communities developing their personal skills as individuals, making them more marketable for other leadership roles, jobs, and other things in the community," Hooper said.