By Debra Gass
While it may be true that Vermont is at a crisis point in our child protection system, there are people and programs in communities throughout the state who are working to address the thorniest issues currently plaguing Vermont. They are our Parent Child Centers.
Vermont's 15 Parent Child Centers have been working with community partners to ensure that families get the help they need to give their children the best possible start in life. Yet for the past 20 years Parent Child Centers have been doing the work without an increase in the base funding.
Here in Brattleboro, EES offers an array of parenting supports for young families, including "Dedicated Dads," a program to support fathers. One of the members began to attend Dedicated Dads group work at Early Education Services shortly after his relationship with his son's mother had ended about a year ago. He shared that he needed the support offered by EES services because he felt that "the deck was stacked against him." He was experiencing very limited contact with his child and ongoing arguments with his son's mother over parent contact and agreeable financial support for his child's care. This dad experienced ongoing setbacks in court and was frustrated with his inability to establish positive relationships with his son and ex-girlfriend.
By attending EES' Dedicated Dads groups, this father learned to foster healthy relationships, and build positive communication skills. Additionally, this dad worked on understanding the importance of accepting boundaries that he may not agree with. This dad reports now that his ongoing challenges in his family relationships have changed from supervised visitations and arguing over differences to a shared parenting and healthier communication while accepting those things that he may not agree with or be able to change. He is involved in his son's classroom and community activities including fatherhood services and activities. He recently attended this year's Fatherhood Conference in Mystic, Conn., to share his story and talk about the support he has received from EES.
In addition to the Dedicated Dads parenting support group, EES offered over 1,750 contact events for parents and families last year, including Young Parents Support Group, Welcome Baby visits, playgroups in three towns, socialization events, Parent Committee Meetings, Policy Council and many field trips to local venues.
Overall, participants reported an increased level of confidence in their parenting abilities, connections to community resources, networking and friendships and increased knowledge about preparing children for school.
Through these core services that focus on early intervention and prevention efforts, it can be shown that Vermont taxpayers are saving millions of dollars. Our request to policy makers and budget writers is to bring the base funding up to $135,000 for each Parent Child Center and to include a COLA so the amount is adjusted every year. To accomplish this, the base appropriation must be $2,025,000.
As policy makers make tough budget choices this year, we hope they will keep Parent Child Centers in the forefront of our work to support vulnerable families.
Debra Gass is the Executive Director of Brattleboro Town School District's Education Services , serving Windham County families.