We find ourselves in an unprecedented time here in Guilford County, in North Carolina and across our country with challenges related to COVID-19. Gaps in the current system continue to be revealed, especially when it comes to how the families of infants, toddlers and preschoolers connect with resources to support the healthy development of their children.
In Guilford County, Ready for School, Ready for Life (Ready Ready) is working with more than 100 partner agencies and organizations to build an innovative, connected system of care to benefit all young children and their families while also reducing persistent disparities. The envisioned system of care is made not only for times of relative stability, but for times like these when responsiveness to family strengths and needs is more important than ever.
The current focus of our work is to put supports in place starting in early pregnancy and expanding those supports through age three. We’re starting early because brain science shows that the vast majority of brain growth occurs by age three, providing the foundation for all future learning. If we don’t make the most of this critical time in the lives of our children, we miss a huge opportunity to build a strong foundation.
Ready Ready staff, Board, and partners have spent the last five years laying the groundwork for this system. This work included the launch of the Get Ready Guilford Initiative, which provides foundational supports to help families get connected to quality programs and resources. While the system is under development, local families are already benefitting from public and private investments in the expansion of effective programs, the launch of the Guilford Basics, and in continuous quality improvement efforts with 13 programs that serve 23,000 families.
As we move forward, we are prioritizing our fundamental values in all that we do.
- We will continue to be data driven, using evidence to make decisions and to allocate resources to what works. The integrated data system (IDS) that is under development will help answer key questions, including understanding the impact of our efforts over time.
- We will continue to be equity focused, inclusive, and empower families as decision-makers to ensure that our efforts do not exacerbate persistent disparities or miss the mark when it comes to what is valuable to families.
- We will promote effective change through advocacy and a focus on sustainability, including seeking public support to work in concert with private investments in Guilford County’s early childhood system.
Through our continued partnership with The Duke Endowment and Blue Meridian Partners, we are gaining momentum and seeing measurable progress. The Get Ready Guilford Initiative has been recognized as a “bright spot” in early childhood systems-building with potential for replication of the initiative in North Carolina and across the country.
You can read more about our work below. We are grateful for your ongoing support of our efforts in Guilford County and across the state. If you have questions or need additional information, please reach out.
Take Action TODAY on Behalf of Children, Families & Caregivers
The impacts of COVID-19 are being felt across Guilford County, our state, the country and the world. While the news changes on an hourly basis, what hasn’t changed is Ready Ready’s commitment to our community’s youngest children and their families.
Here are some actions you can take today to continue to be a strong advocate:
- Stay updated on daily policy and funding changes that affect North Carolina children and families.
- Sign this call to action asking North Carolina policymakers to provide emergency funding for early childhood education programs now, during, and after the COVID-19 crisis. Child care is an essential service for working families, especially during times of crisis. However, little support has been provided to sustain the industry, and many local centers and family child care homes are now closing. A survey by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) indicates that without emergency funding, temporary closures will become permanent for many programs. Learn more and sign the call to action from our partners at the North Carolina Early Childhood Coalition.
- Complete your confidential online census form and encourage families you know to do the same.Thousands of our state’s newborns, infants, toddlers and family members go uncounted in the US Census. Critical funding for children and families is tied to the census, so it’s more important than ever for everyone to be counted. Materials were mailed to your home in March; use these instructions to complete the census if you haven’t already. This is protected information, so please encourage everyone you know to participate.
- COVID-19 Resource Tool: Coming Soon! Ready Ready is working with partners to provide a centralized resource with updated COVID-19 information to make it easier for agencies and organizations to connect families with young children with needed resources. Families will also be able to access the tool; watch for an update next week with a link to the COVID-19 Resource Tool.
All families experience big changes when a new baby enters their lives, and all families benefit from having extra support during this critical time.
Ask any woman who had a baby since 2001 if she had a visit from a nurse at her home shortly after delivery and you will likely hear something like this:
- “Yes! I remember how relieved I was that she showed up when she did. I had so many questions and she really helped.”
- “I was really worried that my son wasn’t getting enough milk and the nurse calmed me down, helped me make a few adjustments and gave me the confidence to continue nursing him.”
- “I hadn’t slept in weeks and was feeling depressed. The nurse talked with me and connected me to some supports that really made a difference to me and to my family.”
These moms are talking about Guilford Family Connects, a program offered by the Guilford County Department of Health and Human Services, which served more than 3,500 families in 2019. This program is one of many partners at the core of the system of care being designed and piloted in Guilford County through the Get Ready Guilford Initiative (GRGI).
The program is introduced to all families shortly after delivery, at which time a home visit is scheduled within the first few weeks after baby goes home from the hospital. A registered nurse meets with families at home to check on the health and well-being of the new baby, the mother and other family members. During visits, nurses can identify any issues early and connect families to additional community resources that can support healthy beginnings for children and their families.
Due to COVID-19, starting in March 2020, families with newborns are being supported by Guilford Family Connects nurses through visits by telephone and via Skype. To date, the response from families has been positive and nurses have found it easy to connect by phone as families shelter in place.
GRGI builds upon the strengths of this important program, which is funded primarily through Smart Start dollars via the Partnership for Children of Guilford County. Strategic investments made through GRGI are helping to expand and strengthen the program.
More about Family Connects
- Established in 2001 within Guilford County as the Universal Newborn Home Visiting Program, and transitioned to evidence-based model called Family Connects in 2015
- Nurses provide support to families with newborns for up to the first six weeks of their babies’ lives. A nurse assesses the health and well-being of the newborn, mother and whole family, and makes needed connections to other resources.
- Guilford Family Connects recently added a supervisor, team leader, community health consultant and senior office specialist and has plans for further staff expansion in 2020.
- In 2019, Guilford Family Connects conducted 4,353 visits to 3,529 families and made 2,079 referrals to community agencies or partners.
- Three Family Connects nurses — Lynda Wagoner, Nicky Finch and Penny Bell — were recognized as “Top 100 Distinguished Public Health Nurses in North Carolina.”
The Get Ready Guilford Initiative’s goal is to support the healthy development of our youngest children at every stage. The Basics provide an easy way for the whole community to rally behind newborns, infants and toddlers with five fun, free, simple and powerful things anyone can do to help children have a great start in life. Powered by funding from The Cemala Foundation, the Basics are being executed by community partners across Guilford County. See how the Learning Together Family Literacy team is using the Basics with families.
Learning Together Family Literacy is a unique program in which mothers whose second language is English build literacy skills while preparing their infants, toddlers and preschoolers for school and life success. The curriculum helps women improve communication skills while also providing quality information and resources about topics like education, physical/mental health and more that can be shared more widely within participants’ language and social communities. Learning Together women become advocates for their families, a strong system of support for one another, and leaders in their communities.
In 2019, Learning Together Family Literacy incorporated the Basics into its curriculum since the Basics reinforced messages that the families are already learning and practicing. For example, the mothers learn computer skills as they watch videos on the Basics website and practice reading skills using tip sheets provided. The parents discuss what they have learned and brainstorm ways to share the Basics with others in the communities from their unique cultural experiences. For example, when discussing the Basic “Maximize Love, Manage Stress,” the mothers started talking about the importance of creating a bedtime routine and how they will begin one in their families.
The goal is for mothers to incorporate the Basics into their families and to become ambassadors to help teach other caregivers the Basics. While working with the Guilford Basics is new for Learning Together Family Literacy, program director Karen Martinez said within just a few weeks they have seen a shift in the way the parents are interacting with their children during the program’s prescribed PACT (Parent And Child Together) components and finding ways to utilize the Basics.
In the time of COVID-19, Learning Together families are connecting through a private Facebook page, sharing information, and further strengthening their informal support group. Staff continues to share pertinent information regarding food resources and ways to keep children engaged during this stressful time, including a focus on the Basics. Staff is also working with families with school-age children to ensure they have what they need to stay connected to their schools and to continue learning.
Through the Get Ready Guilford Initiative, 13 programs serving more than 23,000 Guilford County families have been participating in a continuous quality improvement (CQI) effort. During the past 18 months, programs have been working with coaches and with each other on goals set by each program. Read more about how the Bringing Out the Best team is using what they have learned through this process.
Based out of UNC-Greensboro, the Bringing Out the Best program, provides services for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers who are experiencing challenges related to social-emotional development. Traditionally, services have been provided primarily in childcare settings, with home visits routinely offered as needed. However, as a result of recent COVID-19 developments, the Bringing Out the Best team has adapted and is working with families and teachers remotely. Consultations by phone, email or video are being offered not only to those clients who were already on the waitlist when the stay at home orders were given, but to any family or caregiver that meets the program criteria (children ages 0-5 and not yet in kindergarten, child attends school in Guilford County or lives in Guilford County, and any preschool/childcare teacher in Guilford County.) (Learn more.)
Director Janet Howard shared that the program has been collecting data for years. Through the CQI process and coaching, staff have a better understanding for how to analyze the information and use it to improve and focus efforts. “The CQI work has given us a different lens through which we view our program’s impact on the children, families and teachers we serve,” Howard said. “This view is beneficial to us as we continuously strive to improve and streamline our service delivery.”
The CQI process has helped the program become more responsive to the needs of teachers and families, to test new approaches, and to learn and adapt. In addition, the program’s participation in the first Guilford County Continuous Quality Improvement conference in late 2019 provided the opportunity for Bringing Out the Best and other programs to have frank conversations with the funding community about the challenges faced by nonprofits, and where opportunities exist for additional support.
Join us on April 13 at Noon for a Facebook Live event with Action Greensboro!
Social distancing has caused major shifts for everyone, and especially for families with infants, toddlers and preschoolers. During this time when routines have been disrupted, how can families and caregivers help young children feel safe, loved and nurtured? And how can all of us support families with young children during this stressful time?
The Basics provide five free and simple ways to help children (and their caregivers) thrive. Stormi Covington and Mary Herbenick from the Ready for School, Ready for Life team will share ideas for how everyone can use the five Basics in daily life. Learn more at GuilfordBasics.org and join us on April 13th on Facebook.
To watch the webinar, like the Action Greensboro Facebook page and click on “Videos” in the left-hand column to watch. The approximately 30 minute session will also be recorded.