PAT provides family support services to prevent abuse, neglect

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ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — It is no easy feat to raise children in this day and age. There are many external stressors and unavoidable family issues that can make this even more difficult. Through its Parents As Teachers program, FAMILYConnections identifies at-risk families and provides one-on-one help to ensure everyone in a home remains safe.

PAT is a home-visitation program for expectant mothers and parents of children younger than 3 years old. The program endeavors to provide parents with the information, support and encouragement they need to help their children grow into healthy children during the crucial early years of life. Parent educators develop individualized plans for each family, focusing on their unique needs. These services are conducted by specially trained and certified Parent Educators in the home.

Currently, 57 families in Essex County benefit from PAT, which is funded by the N.J. Department of Children and Families.

“The Parents As Teachers model is a voluntary, evidenced-based home visitation program that provides in-home health and parenting education, and supportive services to families,” Amanda Santana, FAMILYConnections’ director of programs, said in a recent email interview. “Once enrolled, families have been offered intensive long-term home visitation services through age 3 — and most recently some of our staff have been trained to work with children up to age 5.”

Program components include: personal visits in the home; peer support, education and parenting skills-development through monthly group meetings; hearing, vision, cognitive, social, emotional, speech and motor development screenings; and connections to community resources.

“These home visits provide education to families on important issues: prenatal health, infant/child health and development, positive parenting practices, nurturing parent-child relationships, child safety, education and employment, and the prevention of child neglect and abuse,” Santana said. “They also link parents and families to existing social service and health care resources. An added emphasis (is placed) on education, employment, family stability and well-being, and school readiness.”

While all of FAMILYConnections’ programs work to support families and child development within the county, PAT is a prime example.

“PAT addresses FAMILYConnections’ core mission,” FAMILYConnections Executive Director Jacques Hryshko said in a recent email. “PAT enhances safety and strengthens families by teaching new parents how to ensure that their children thrive.”

Hryshko went on to say that PAT and programs like it “are important examples of our strong partnership with the NJ Department of Children and Families.”

PAT’s success can sometimes be difficult to measure. The program’s goal is to provide support and resources to families that may be overburdened by life stressors that could contribute to child neglect and abuse, and it is difficult to measure something successfully prevented.

And yet, PAT does more than just prevent tragedies; it supports parents and guardians on many fronts to improve the whole family’s social, mental and physical health.

“The program provides support to families in need of resources,” Santana said. “Our professional staff deliver evidence-based curricula to support and promote early childhood education, development and health by engaging parents and caregivers. These programs help parents to understand their child’s development and seek support as needed. The program helps to catch developmental challenges early so children can get the help they need before entering school. And through education and understanding, this provides support for parents to minimize frustrations, potential for child abuse and support child-parent bonding.”

According to Santana, the successes can also be measured individually, by each story she comes across of a family that is helped through PAT.

“One of our clients is a recovering drug addict, an unemployed young woman who constantly reminds herself that failure is not an option. She tries her best to comply with the guidelines and requirements set forth by N.J. Division of Child Protection & Permanency as her case is soon to be dismissed,” Santana said. “Her child was born with cardiovascular difficulties and has been, constantly, visiting the doctor’s office — or hospital — for EKGs and other medical procedures. Even with all of these stressors, mom refuses to give up. She not only enjoys participating during each home visit, but she also ensures that the family engages in the activities provided by her Parent Educator when the home visits are not taking place. Mom regularly shares her child’s developmental progress with her Parent Educator on hand-written notes. She also enjoys telling of their experiences as they learn with each activity.”

For more information on PAT, visit http://www.familyconnectionsnj.org/programs-and-services/parents-as-teachers-pat/.

Photos Courtesy of Amanda Santana

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