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Smart Start Home Visiting program working to set Cuyahoga County families up for success

The program, through the Centers for Families and Children, caters to families in Cuyahoga County from the womb to 5 years old.

CLEVELAND — At home in Cleveland, Brandy Holt plays with her six-month-old daughter, Eden Carter, reading books together and exploring different textures and sounds during playtime. On the carpet with them, banging on a drum and encouraging activities, is home visitor Andrea Walsh-Frazier.

Walsh-Frazier has been visiting with Holt weekly since she was pregnant, as part of the Smart Start Home Visiting program with the Centers for Families and Children, a program that supports Cuyahoga County families of low income from the womb to age 5.

“We work with the families on building parent resilience, education, social connections within the community, really building that social emotional support within the family and the child,” said Tonya Thompson, the program's manager.

The visits last about an hour and a half, and are completely free to participants, thanks to to funding from Early Head Start, Head Start, and Help Me Grow.

Walsh-Frazier is a home visitor, and has worked with dozens of families. She said her role is all about supporting families in their parenting skills, and meeting them where they are.

“Sometimes people get nervous, like ‘oh, I don’t need help,’” Walsh-Frazier said. “We all could use a little help in our parenting skills and getting ready for kindergarten.”

Walsh-Frazier said she’s seen families who’ve gone through the home visiting program strengthen and develop advocacy skills as parents, prepare kids for kindergarten, and foster fun and shared activities with their kids.

Additionally, Walsh-Frazier said she incorporates literacy and math activities in her visits as well, and explained the program uses something called the GGK curriculum, with parents identifying areas of interest they want to focus on, from things like nutrition to physical development, and set a goal for their family. 

“I’ve seen some families who dropped out of high school, they never spoke English when we started,” she said. “And then at the end when we’re done, you just see them thriving.”

Holt said she learned about the program through family members who have used it before, and said she’s benefited from participating. Whether they’re at home, at the grocery store, or at the museum, Holt treats every moment like a learning opportunity.

“If we’re walking around the grocery store, I’ll name every fruit and vegetable we walk by,” Holt said. “People are looking at me like, ‘you’re talking to a baby,’ but that’s helping her brain develop, and that’s something I learned and I tell other parents that they can do as well.”

Holt said she and her daughter have even been learning sign language in the program.

“It’s been helping her, actually,” Holt said of the activities and skills she's learned in the program. “My parents, everyone around noticed that she’s very observant. She talks more than a lot of other little children her age.”

According to Thompson, the Centers for Families and Children also provide workforce development programs, an early learning center, health and wellness resources, a basic needs resource center, and substance abuse resources, among others, which Thompson said they can leverage to help families.

Thompson said she’s seen the positive impacts the Smart Start Home Visiting Program has had on the community and families. Walsh said in particular, she's seen positive results when it comes to attendance later on. 

“We’re able to reduce infant mortality by the utilization of the program,” she said, also mentioning the kindergarten readiness they’re able to help foster in young children and families. “We see the outcomes of the parents, building up their resilience to be able to go out and be self sufficient and you know, make that phone call, to help them and advocate for themselves.”  

For more information on the Centers or the home visiting program, click here. 

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