County agencies help kids get strong start

By ALLEN LAMAN
alaman@dcherald.com

FERDINAND — The experiences children have in their early childhood years set them on a trajectory to success or set them up to face extra challenges for the rest of their lives.

Early interaction — talking, playing and learning — is crucial to a child’s development because it affects the way they develop physically, mentally, socially and academically. But stressors like work, bad relationships and the constant connectivity of today’s technology can take parents away from this time. As a result, stressed parents can create stressed kids.

About 45 people met at an Indiana Youth Institute event at the Ferdinand Community Center yesterday to discuss how parents and organizations in Dubois County can work to assure local kids get off to a strong start.

“Every adult can make a difference in a child’s life, no matter their age, no matter their role,” said Joan Knies, primary prevention coordinator with Crisis Connection. “I just truly believe that whether it be a little thing — reading a book — or whether it be changing policies at your organization, everybody can make a difference.”

The event was led by Knies and Aleisha Sheridan, the president and CEO of 4C of Southern Indiana — a nonprofit child care resource and referral agency that services 14 counties in southwestern Indiana.

The event began with a showing of the first part of “The Raising of America: Early Childhood and the Future of Our Nation,” a documentary series that explores how conditions faced by children and their families during infancy and the early years can alter the developing brain and affect a child’s future success in school and in life. Attendees then discussed the production and how Dubois County is working to help families.

The documentary explains how according to a United Nations report, the United States ranks 26 out of 29 nations in child well-being. It says that the U.S. is the only rich or middle-income country that does not guarantee paid parental leave, and that finding affordable, high-quality child care services can be challenging because only 10 percent of child care centers in the U.S. are accredited.

“I was physically and emotionally upset,” Knies said while reflecting on the first time she saw the documentary. “And then I flipped it to say, ‘But you know what, there are a lot of positive things going and a lot of good things going (locally).”

According to 2015 IYI data — the latest available — 20.4 percent of Indiana children live in poverty, 9 percent of children in Dubois County.

Knies said Dubois County System of Care, the Dubois County Public Health Partnership and Crisis Connection are some of the most important local agencies working to help struggling kids and families.

“We’re trying to be proactive and going upstream to prevent the violence before it occurs,” she said of Crisis Connection specifically.

System of Care is a community partnership working to increase the health and well-being of local families and children through cohesive and collaborative mental health and substance abuse prevention and care, while the county health partnership was formed to assure the healthcare and public health services that best serve the needs of the population are provided.

Sheridan said even kids who miss out on early childhood interaction can undo the damage with stimulation, but noted their brains will not develop as quickly as kids who are raised in a relaxed environment.

“It takes an entire village to make a change, and it starts in early childhood,” Sheridan said.

A trailer for the documentary can be viewed on Raising of America’s website at www.raisingofamerica.org/watch.




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