Written by: Sandy Vicars – Parent Educator, Parents As Teachers Program
In March of 2020 our lives changed drastically. A worldwide pandemic hit and we were forced to seek shelter in our homes. Essential workers continued to brave the pandemic to support their communities. Workers lost jobs, were furloughed, or worked in a different capacity. For many, the virtual world became their office, research lab, or classroom. Take a moment to think about how the pandemic affected you.
For me, I was terrified about what would happen to me, my family, and my community. My husband is self-employed. Could he continue to work? My job is to work with families in their homes. Could I continue to work? If we didn’t work, how would we pay our bills, our mortgage, and put food on the table? So many issues ran through my head as I am sure they ran through yours as well.
We began a new way of life. At Arizona’s Children Association, our mission is to “protect children, empower youth, and strengthen families.” Our organization was considered essential and we looked for ways to meet the needs of our children and families. The internet became our lifeline to those we serve. We continued to provide services in person and virtually as many other businesses, organizations, and schools began to do as well. One of the moms I work with, Rachel, shared the following “During this difficult time of COVID restrictions, Sandy has become a lifeline for our family. My daughters love her, and after each visit I feel uplifted and more confident in my role as a parent!”
In our program, Parents as Teachers, Parent Educators support families with children ages birth to five years old. We also support pregnant moms. As a Parent Educator, I began meeting twice a month with my families virtually through Zoom. Our first few meetings were challenging as my families and I learned to connect and communicate with this new technology.
For very young children, the interactions were confusing at first. I wonder if some of their thoughts were, “why can’t I hug her?” or “why do I only see part of her?” They would grab at the phone or run away. Older children struggled as well. Many were not allowed to “play” with mommy’s phone or tablet. For some, their source of entertainment now became a tool for communication. Some of the comments I heard, “when can I play my game?” or “we’re not supposed to play on the phone!”
As we continued to meet, I felt as though we had been meeting this way forever. Our routine was the same each session. We talked about how the family has been since our last visit. Most said “good” or “okay”. Others shared their challenges. “This has been a hard week.” “I miss being able to go out.” “The kids are missing their friends and don’t understand why they can’t see them.” Many ask, “when will we be able to meet in person???” As we work through these challenges, we build on the family’s strengths and promote positive parenting behaviors and improve protective factors.
Each session includes an activity, a discussion on a developmental topic, and a conversation surrounding the family’s well-being. During some sessions, we screen for early identification of developmental delays, health, vision, and hearing problems. We also include family strengths assessments and goal planning. As we close each session, we discuss with the family what was most helpful to them and what they want to work on until we meet again.
As the pandemic continues, so do the struggles each family faces. Our organization continues to provide excellent support for our children and families. As I close, here are some thoughts shared by parents in the program. I wish you well!
“Before I started in this program I was at my wit’s end. I didn’t know how to care for my last two children with their special needs. I’ve since learned how to do different projects and use alternative procedures when dealing with their melt downs and what I thought were temper tantrums. The sensory and games have helped calm me down.so that I can teach them without being angry or upset or at a loss of what to do so I’m very thankful that now I’m able to process stop pause and know that they’re not here to be making you mad. They’re just learning as well.”Delphina – Program Participant
“I have become a much more confident parent because I have a parent educator as part of my team of support. I look forward to our visits where I learn so much, and have a trusted mentor that helps me brainstorm solutions to my parenting problems.”Rachel – Program Participant
“As a first time parent, Parents as Teachers has been imperative to guiding through important milestones and challenges while introducing a variety of age appropriate activities to promote development and have fun with my child.”Suzanne – Program Participant
“This program has taught me how to connect with my kids on different levels by growing together. Learning them as individuals understanding how their mind works and see things. We can also be taught by our children as well. Give them comfort, love, care and they will return it.”Ariana – Program Participant