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by Shauna Kerperin, Executive Director, Missouri Parents As Teachers Association
Since its inception in 2016, Missouri Parents As Teachers Association’s mission is to be a leading force in the support, education, and quality of programs in Missouri so that all Missouri children will develop to their fullest potential. The purpose of the Missouri Parents as Teachers Association (MOPATA) is to provide and promote skill-building, peer learning, networking, and advocacy so that all Missouri families will have access to high-quality parenting support through Parents as Teachers (PAT) programs.

With families working from home and/or experiencing job losses or furloughs, with schools and childcare centers closed, and many families required to shelter in place, the challenges they are facing just grew exponentially. One thing we know about social isolation, stress, and anxiety is that the likelihood of child abuse will most likely increase. Research shows Parents as Teachers home visiting model significantly reduces child abuse and neglect.  So how do we provide that support to families in Missouri when we cannot go into their homes? Virtual Home Visiting.

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of change, stress, and anxiety for everyone.  Missouri Parents As Teachers Association (MOPATA), Parents As Teachers National Center (PATNC) and the Early Learning team at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) have been working tirelessly to find a different way to support the families enrolled in Parents As Teachers when home visitors cannot go into the homes.

By using the strengthening families approach throughout each virtual visit, parent educators are supporting families to help reduce and prevent child abuse and neglect.  Building parental resilience, offering social connections, sharing information on parenting and child development, providing concrete support in times of need, and enhancing the social and emotional competence of children are foundational to home visiting.

During each virtual visit with families, parent educators are actively providing resources and activities specific to individual families’ needs. When parents are informed of support systems available to them they have ways of managing their stress and are encouraged to tune into the unique needs of their children.

During these uncertain times, many parent educators are focusing their visits around social-emotional development and managing stress. Educating families on how stress presents itself in adults and children helps to create awareness. This leads to goal-setting and designing the home environment in ways that can reduce stress and increase attachment. Some activities include relaxation breathing, infant and child massage, and impulse control games, such as red light green light.  All of these activities have components based in child development and brain research. Active play is one of the best ways to increase endorphins in the brain. These relieve stress and result in a positive and energized state of mind.

These are new and challenging times for all of us, but we are working to implement new ways to stay connected with families and support them during the current health crisis. For more information about Parents As Teachers visit www.MOPATA.org and www.parentsasteachers.org

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