This last year the pandemic has upended our families, our communities, and our world. Parent child centers across Vermont have offered a constant safety net of support for families through it all. Parent child centers have provided essential basic needs such as access to food, diapers, technology tools needed to ensure education and service access, and concrete financial supports to ensure or attain housing security. PCCs have served as a lifeline to parents with young children who are isolated and at risk both through virtual parent support and connection as well as in-person supports, often delivering to families many of the vital resources and goods families need but often could not safely obtain to get through the pandemic.
One of the most remarkable things about parent child centers is their potential involvement in every aspect of a family’s life because we create communities of support where families are not afraid to ask for help. Our staff picks up food at the food bank for the family without transportation and brings it directly to them. The child that doesn’t enter the foster care system as a result of parent education and support groups provided by parent child centers saves the state of Vermont thousands of dollars. The single mom that makes connections with other parents at a parent child center playgroup creates a social safety net that provides the peer support to make it through the rough patches. The new father that gets a visit from a parent child center home visitor can help access the tools he needs to be the best father he can be.
Research has shown time and again that investing in prevention and young children and families saves thousands of dollars down the road. We know that adult-child relationships and other early experiences influence child wellbeing. Parent child centers provide evidence-informed and research-based interventions that build resilience in both children and their caregivers through extensive family support programming. This leads to better health outcomes. As the Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University states: “…supporting families with young children and strengthening responsive relationships not only builds a foundation for social-emotional development, school readiness, and future learning; it also strengthens the building blocks for a lifetime of physical and mental health.”
Parent child centers do this work in many important ways: supporting parent and child bonding and attachment; prenatal and postpartum support; family systems work; child screenings; referrals and access to supports and services across the state; support accessing state systems and funding; access for families to concrete supports; supporting parenting women in getting back into the workforce. Parent child centers are codified in Vermont statute and provide consistent services across the state as well as being responsive to local community and family needs, our flexibility in this way sets our services apart from others.
When we invest in families getting the support they need, they are able to give back to healthy and strong communities. “Policies and programs that reduce stress, prevent toxic exposures, and provide support for pregnant mothers and families with infants and toddlers will result in better health outcomes across the lifespan and save billions in health care costs,” (Center for the Developing Child, Harvard University). Now is the time to strengthen parent child centers and make a policy investment in our network of services for children and families. We are asking our leaders to be brave. It’s critical to ask: Can we afford not to spend more on children and families? This is the opportunity of a lifetime. Invest in families, invest in children, invest in Vermont.
Claire Kendall, co-director, Family Center of Washington County
Margot Holmes, director, Springfield Area Parent Child Center