Dear Ready for School, Ready for Life Supporters,
Since joining Ready for School, Ready for Life in September, I have been overwhelmed by the community’s unwavering support of this effort. I am truly honored to lead such an exceptional organization that is prepared to transform the future of our area’s youngest children. It feels great to be back in my home of Guilford County, and to have the opportunity to work alongside the dedicated people who have supported our community for several years.
Ready for School, Ready for Life, or “Ready Ready,” launched in 2014, with much of the last five years devoted to establishing the groundwork for the impactful, life-changing work still to come. This groundwork has focused on the preliminary data collection and evaluation to be required to properly inform our efforts. This includes the growth of the Get Ready Guilford Initiative along with our Continuous Quality Improvement program, investment in the expansion and inclusion of some of our county’s existing evidenced-based programs, and the launch of the Guilford Basics.
As we begin 2020, we are prioritizing our fundamental values in all that we do—values to excel our mission to be data driven, equity focused, inclusive, and to empower the family voice. This means that our work will emphasize inclusion of the valuable perspectives of community representatives and residents of Guilford County. We are highlighting advocacy as a means to promote effective change, including seeking legislative support for a program to better train our early childhood workforce; and use of our integrated data system (IDS). The IDS identifies trends in barriers to services, which informs the manner in which we target improvement of balanced and equal access for all members of our community. Through our continued partnership with The Duke Endowment and Blue Meridian Partners, we are gaining the momentum needed to have a collective impact and measurable progress on early childhood development in Guilford County. It is our goal that through our work in making the Get Ready Guilford Initiative a success, we will become an outstanding model for other communities—not just in North Carolina—but across the nation.
This year we recognize that the addition of key roles to the Ready Ready staff will help us in the fulfillment of this goal. Roles such as a Director of Engagement & Literacy Initiatives, a Community Alignment Specialist, and others we intend to develop, will position us to efficiently address our organization’s priorities. We also anticipate expanding the number of community partners—especially with our navigation support services, which aims to strengthen how resources are accessed and utilized by all families with young children in our county.
What we have achieved and the work yet to be done could not happen without the support of our board of directors, staff, and numerous community partners and funders. We deeply appreciate your time, dedication, and investment in the important work we are doing. We are tremendously grateful for your continued commitment which is essential to ensuring that families and children throughout the county receive the services and support they need and deserve. Together, we will continue to strengthen our organizational capacity, advocacy, outreach, and resource development, with an ultimate goal to improve the educational outcomes for all young children in Guilford County!
Since 2001, Guilford County’s division of Public Health have been providing universal nurse home visits to all deliveries in Guilford County. In 2015, the evidenced-based Family Connects (FC) model was adopted to further enhance services provided. FC visits include a thorough physical assessment of both mom and baby and a psychosocial and environmental assessment of the family. The nurses continue to provide support, education, and early identification of needs or concerns for up to six weeks, with referrals and follow up occurring as needed.
Family Connects Guilford has been involved with community partners since the inception of its home visiting program, and is currently expanding its program in coordination with the Get Ready Guilford Initiative and Duke Endowment to better serve our community. The program has recently added a supervisor, team leader, community health consultant and senior office specialist and has plans for further staff expansion in 2020.
In 2019, Family Connects conducted 4,353 visits to 3,529 families and made 2,079 referrals to community agencies or partners. Three members of its team — Lynda Wagoner, Nicky Finch and Penny Bell — were recognized as one of the 100 Distinguished Public Health Nurses in North Carolina. But, perhaps more importantly, it’s worth noting the impact they are having on the lives of the families they serve. As one parent said, “They answered my questions, provided assurance, updated me on current recommendations and on my baby’s health.” Or, in the words of another parent: “These visits help confirm that I am doing a good job with my baby.”
Learning Together Family Literacy provides a unique program where parents in Guilford County—largely mothers who do not speak English as their first language—improve their literacy and life skills while preparing their children for success in school through joint classes and other educational opportunities. In 2020, Learning Together Family Literacy is incorporating the Guilford Basics into its curriculum, teaching the participants what the Basics are and how to use them. The hope is these mothers will not only incorporate the Basics into their families but will also become ambassadors to help teach other caregivers the Basics.
The 45 parents in Learning Together Family Literacy this spring are spending two weeks focused on each Basic. They are developing their computer skills by visiting the Guilford Basics website to watch the videos, and then practicing their reading skills by looking at the tip sheets provided for each Basic. The parents then discuss what they have learned and brainstorm ways to share the Basics with other people. For example, when discussing the Basic “Maximize Love, Manage Stress,” the mothers talked about the importance of creating a bedtime routine and how to start one in their families.
While working with the Guilford Basics is still new for Learning Together Family Literacy, program coordinator Karen Martinez said within just a few weeks they have seen a shift in the way the parents are interacting with their children and finding ways to utilize the Basics.
Based out of UNC Greensboro, Bringing Out the Best provides family-centered, community-based services for children up to age 5 who have social and emotional challenges. The program also provides training and support for childcare teachers. In August of 2018, Bringing Out the Best was invited to participate in Ready for School, Ready for Life’s first Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) cohort, which provides organizations with a CQI coach to help them find ways to better understand and use data to shape their decision making and long-term planning.
Janet Howard, director of Bringing Out the Best, said it has been collecting data for years, but didn’t have a clear understanding of how to analyze the information to improve and focus its efforts. For example, it works with teachers to help them develop strategies to address the needs of challenging children. However, Bringing Out the Best found that many teachers did not feel engaged in the process and many cases took longer than expected. Bringing Out the Best tried a new approach, and while it did not work, through the data it gained and the insight from its CQI coach, it is developing a new way to both improve the program and streamline it to help more people.
“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.”
Bringing Out the Best, the rest of the 13 organizations in the first CQI cohort and many of their funding organizations participated in a conference on CQI initiatives in late 2019. Howard said it allowed for very frank conversations with their funders about the challenges they face and what opportunities there might be for additional support in addressing the critical needs facing early childhood development.
The Coalition for Infant Mortality is a public/private partnership focused on reducing infant mortality across Guilford County. For most of the organization’s 28 years, it has focused on a program called “Adopt-a-Mom,” which helps subsidize the cost of prenatal care for women without insurance. However, after program director Jean Workman joined in May and began diving into the data, she was astounded to see that the rate of infant mortality was six times higher for babies born to African-American women than babies born to white women.
While there are a variety of factors that play into this disparity, the Coalition found one of the biggest to be racism and discrimination, in many cases related to systems and access that impact minorities at a greater rate. African American women are more likely to experience discrimination at the doctor’s office, such as being less likely to be believed if something in the pregnancy doesn’t “feel right.” This often keeps them from raising issues of concern so they can be addressed in a timely manner.
To help address these issues, the Coalition for Infant Mortality brought in Tepeyac Consulting and Ambrose Consulting to conduct training for a variety of organizations involved in the work of Ready for School, Ready for Life on how to better address equity issues.
“I was blown away by the receptiveness to the racial equity workshop held on January 16,” said Meka Sales, director of special initiatives for The Duke Endowment, one of the primary funders of Ready Ready. “Each participant was open to being changed and challenged by the information presented to us by the workshop leaders. The experiential design of the workshop forced a deepening of understanding institutional and structural racism and how we may perpetuate bad outcomes through our policies and practices. This shared understanding has the potential to shift and shape systems that can serve us all better.”
As it moves into 2020, the Coalition plans to increase its efforts to address racial disparities, both through education and by addressing some of the systemic disparities that are contributing to the problem.