Alex Robertson was an honor student in her last year of high school when she got pregnant. Her confidence plummeted. She was scared of becoming a parent and scared of what people were thinking of her. “I didn’t want people to think I was that girl who got pregnant too young and didn’t finish school,” she said, but she wasn’t sure she was going to make it to graduation.
She found a lifeline in First Step Family Support Center’s home-visiting program and in Laura Costello, the trained home visitor provided by First Step. Thanks to support she received from First Step through her pregnancy, she stayed in school and graduated from high school just before her son, Tanner, was born.
The stress of a newborn baby can be difficult for any family. For young, low-income parents like Alex Robertson, the stress can be overwhelming. First Step’s home visiting program is one of a number of programs designed to help vulnerable families successfully navigate the first years of their children’s lives.
These voluntary, intensive programs promote children’s health and give parents the support to help their children develop the social, emotional, and intellectual skills they need to succeed in school and life. The programs also have been demonstrated to decrease the risk of child abuse, neglect, and future violent crime, saving communities money in the process.
First Step’s Parents as Teachers program is one of 13 evidence-based home-visiting programs that have, for the last two years, received $3.5 million in state funds. The Children’s Alliance is advocating for inclusion of this same funding in the next biennial budget to maintain support for vulnerable families in these difficult economic times.
After Tanner’s birth, Laura began making frequent visits to Alex’s home to teach her about her son’s development and offer support.
When Tanner was 10 months old and still wasn’t crawling, Laura arranged for Tanner to receive a developmental screening and suggested games Alex could play with him to help develop his large motor skills. For one game, Laura helped Alex make beanbags to throw back and forth with her young son. “I didn’t think he was going to do anything with it, just put the beanbag in his mouth,” Alex said. But Tanner started throwing the bag. Soon he was crawling, his motor development back on track.
A doctor who saw Tanner once every few months or years would likely spot a developmental issue like that only after it had become a problem. But because a home visitor like Laura sees the families she works with so frequently, she can spot issues early and head them off before they develop into problems.
For Alex, one of her lowest moments came when her son was a year old. She had broken up with her son’s father and needed to move out of her parents’ house. Laura helped Alex get signed up for TANF and find an apartment.
Laura also was there to help Alex with the resume and interview skills that helped land her a job as a secretary at a seafood company. She also helped Alex apply for Peninsula College’s medical assistant program, where she’s laying the groundwork for a new career.
“She did wonders for me,” Alex said. “I call her my miracle worker, because without her I would be completely lost.”
--by Carolyn McConnell