Local program aims to support parents with young children

At a recent home visit, family empowerment coach Tashane Simpson asked Myisha Harris, a mom of three young children, what she had done for herself lately.

“I was stuck. I didn’t know how to answer the question,” said Harris, who lives in West Philadelphia. “So now we’re working on goals for me as a person, not just as a parent.”

Harris and her family participate in Kutest Kids’ Parents as Teachers (PAT) – a free program launched late last year for pregnant women or families with kids up to age 5 that facilitates parent-child interactions through home visits and monthly events.

Vonee Hill, the program’s executive director, said the PAT curriculum, which has been adopted by organizations nationwide, provides strategies for parents to understand their child’s needs. Children receive developmental screenings to make sure they are hitting benchmarks.

Hill, who previously worked as a child advocate and social worker in the city’s public defender office, views the Kutest Kids’ program as preventative. She wants her team to reach families before there’s a need for child welfare services.

“We’re not coming in to change anything that you have going on. We want to enhance what you have going on,” Hill said. “Things like mental health or finance issues or housing issues, they start to cloud what’s happening.”

The program gives out diapers, wipes, books and other supplies and refers families to outside organizations if they require further assistance. Hill said coaches consider the health of the parent and child.

Enrollment is voluntary and at no cost, and families can withdraw from the twice-a-month home visits at any time. There are no specific qualifications beyond the age of the children, and insurance is not billed.

Parents participate in Kutest Kids’ PAT for a variety of reasons, Hill said. Some want to learn to better relate to their child, while others have a child with autism or are worried about hitting developmental milestones.

Harris thought of her two-year-old daughter, who has a speech delay, when she saw a flier for the program on Instagram.

“They show many different ways to interact with her, like getting down on my knees to speak to her so she can see me talking,” she told Metro. “It’s important for her to see my lips moving so she can repeat the words later on when she needs to use them.”
Myisha Harris, whose family participates in Kutest Kids’ Parents as Teachers program, plays with her 1-year-old daughter Lillee.Jack Tomczuk

Perhaps Harris’ favorite part of the program is the regular events. This month, Kutest Kids’ PAT is hosting Valentine’s Day and Black History Month themed get-togethers for families.

PAT is a nationwide model affiliated with nonprofits and other organizations around the country. Other Philadelphia-area partners include Carson Valley Children’s Aid and the Oxford Circle Christian Community Development Corporation.

Hill was hired in September to start Kutest Kids’ PAT program after the company received a state grant to fund the work. Kutest Kids operates a for-profit early intervention therapy agency based at Kids at Play, an indoor playground that hosts birthday parties and open play times.

All three related organizations are currently based in a section of a building in East Falls; though they are moving in the spring to a larger space on Ridge Avenue in Roxborough, Hill said.

Simpson, who works with Harris’s family, and other coaches shadow Hill on home visits and undergo a two-week training through the PAT national office. Simpson told Metro that she’s begun using the techniques with her own children.

“If she’s interested in animal sounds, that’s the books that we’re using, that’s the song that we’re singing,” she said. “Children are the leaders, and we’re just there to facilitate their development.”

Hill, a mom of three, has also found herself incorporating the PAT model at home with her youngest, a two-year-old girl.

“It’s taught me to give the child space, that tantrums are natural,” she said. “But it also taught me how to prepare and prevent a tantrum.”

“When you learn positive parenting skills and how to interact better, and how to talk through different things, it’s very helpful,” Hill added.

From Broke In Philly/Metro Philadelphia