How local organizations are helping young parents

In late 2022, Fort Wayne Community Schools (FWCS) was presented with a $1 million grant from the Indiana University Health Foundation with the goal of developing a new childcare and early learning center in the district. 

The plan is two-fold. First, it serves as a training center for students who are interested in careers in childcare and early childhood education. Its second purpose is to support young parents who are still in high school by providing childcare and connection to local resources.

The grant was awarded from the Community Impact Investment Fund (CIIF), which is administered by the IU Health Foundation to address key social and environmental factors that heavily affect people’s health outcomes. 
The CIIF grant is the initial money raised for the proposed FWCS childcare facility. The additional money needed to complete the project will be raised through private fundraising efforts. 

IU Health President and CEO Dennis Murphy says targeted grant-giving and committed partners make a meaningful difference in improving health outcomes in the state of Indiana.

In the press release announcing the grant, FWCS Foundation President Tom Trent said the community has a need for more high-quality childcare.

“We are excited to have been awarded this grant,” he says. “It is a great first step in making this childcare center a reality for Fort Wayne Community Schools.” 

Indiana’s teen birth rate is 17 births per 1,000 females as of 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and that number has been on a steady decline for at least a decade.

Teen pregnancy is associated with increased social and economic costs through immediate and long-term effects on both young parents and their children. According to the CDC, only 50 percent of teen mothers earn a high school diploma by the age of 22. In contrast, about 90 percent of women who did not give birth as a teen graduate from high school.

Statics show that children of teen parents are more likely to experience health problems, have lower achievement in school or drop out, be incarcerated during their adolescence, give birth as a teenager, and face unemployment as a young adult.

There isn’t an abundance of resources to help teen parents change those numbers, but a few organizations are attempting to provide assistance. The proposed childcare center is one resource hoping to do just that.

The organizations partnering to back the proposed center, Brightpoint, Lutheran Social Services of Indiana and Early Childhood Alliance, are a logical partnership, as each is already making leaps and bounds to help families considered low-income through access to child care, education, and financial assistance.

The proposed, fully subsidized childcare center will provide childcare and educational services for up to 118 children, ages 0 through 5. Head Start and Early Head Start, both Brightpoint programs, will operate the early learning program at the center.

Head Start is a free preschool program for children ages 3 to 5. Through Brightpoint’s Head Start program, children can begin to develop the skills they need to become successful in school and life. 

“We do not think of it as childcare,” says Brightpoint President and CEO Steve Hoffman. “It is a preschool. We have full days, full-year classrooms, and we are currently working on converting all of our slots into full days.”

Brightpoint President and CEO Steve HoffmanEarly Head Start works directly with expecting parents and parents who have a child under the age of 3. Through weekly at-home visits, parents can work with staff to learn about education, child development, health, nutrition and more. 

“We have employees go out to the parents and the home, and we work with the child and the parent right in the home,” says Hoffman.

Home Visitors also bring interactive activities, designed for parents and children to do together based on the child’s needs. Much like Head Start, the program aims to help parents and children develop the skills they need to be successful in life and foster mental, social, emotional, and physical growth through play and age-appropriate activities.

A key part of the Early Head Start program is parent involvement. Brightpoint believes parents are their children’s first teachers, so they want to help parents become leaders and supporters of their children’s learning and development.

“We are trying to help the parents be better parents or help them develop as parents, so the program is also about them, not just the children,” says Hoffman.

Child care can often be expensive and out of reach for some families, so Brightpoint also operates a Child Care Assistance program. It’s designed to help low-income families have equal access to childcare and educational opportunities. 

To qualify, families must have children under the age of 13 and parents must be working, going to school or receiving job training to qualify. 

Brightpoint also has the On My Way Pre-K program, which grants low-income families access to a high-quality preschool program in their communities. Much like Child Care Assistance, families must meet financial requirements and have a child in the appropriate age range.

Lutheran Social Services of Indiana focuses on equipping willing families facing the most challenging obstacles with the skills necessary to make positive life choices as evidenced by advancement toward economic and family stability.

As part of its mission, Lutheran Social Services offers the ECHO program, which will be offered at the center. It provides one-on-one, home, and school-based case management to pregnant and parenting teens with the goal of helping teen moms and dads complete their high school education. 

The ECHO program has proven to have successful results, with 98 percent of clients remaining in school and graduating. Additionally, 100 percent of participants maintained prenatal care, improving birth outcomes for their infants, as 100 percent of ECHO parents had infants at or above the national birth weight in 2022. 

A lot of the referrals for the ECHO program are typically from the managers located in the schools. The managers tend to spend around three to four hours at a school, usually seen working with the students who are attempting to juggle both school and parenting. 

According to Lutheran Social Services President and CEO Angie Moellering oftentimes the student's evenings can be very busy due to all of the parenting and taking care of the child’s needs as well as homework and other priorities, so having the managers in the school, gives the parents an opportunity to seek help and reach the goal of gaining a high school education. 

Additionally, Lutheran Social Services also provides the Cup of Kindness program. Through referrals from social service agencies and Lutheran congregations, they offer supportive services through case management, financial literacy education and financial assistance to help families move toward financial stability. 

“In the human services sector, we call it case management when you work one-on-one with a family or individual and then help them reach their goals,” said Moellering. “One of the things a case manager does is help kind of teach financial stability guidelines so the family or individual knows how to budget.”

Lutheran Social Services also continues to help families after they obtain financial stability. Once those families are able to budget, they work to help keep them on track. 

“What if something happens?” said Moellering. “There might be a medical bill or unexpected car repair, so with our case manager, we may work with somebody for six to nine months and will be able to help them through those challenging times.”

The third partner, Early Childhood Alliance, offers help for parents who are seeking childcare, as well as multiple educational resources for families through three accredited children’s centers in the Fort Wayne area. By providing an environment that promotes decision-making, cooperation, creativity, and problem-solving, a daily routine can be established for the children to plan activities, go through with them, and reflect on their experiences.

With the primary goal of preparing children for success in kindergarten and beyond, Early Childhood Alliance provides an environment that promotes skills such as decision-making, cooperation, creativity, and problem-solving. They also establish a daily routine that allows children to plan activities, carry them out, and reflect on those experiences. 
Each of the Early Childhood Alliance programs uses the nationally recognized HighScope curriculum, which aligns with the Foundations for Young Children to the Indiana Academic Standards. Many of the daily activities help the children develop physically, socially, and emotionally. The curriculum also prepares children to bridge the transition from the preschool environment to the elementary environment. 

The staff at Early Childhood Alliance teach children social studies, language, independence, literacy and communication, responsibility, mathematics, confidence, creative arts, and many more skills. 

Altogether, these organizations are hoping to give young parents a helping hand, either through childcare, education, or assistance. 

Other resources for parents in Northeast Indiana

A HOPE Center is an organization that offers a handful of free programs to the public, including the Earn While You Learn Parenting Program, where parents can earn Bonus Bucks by attending classes that can then be “spent” on items like diapers, wipes, cribs, formula, and baby food. 

Parents enrolled will learn about how to prepare for childbirth, learn parenting topics as well as life skills. Classes are offered for both Spanish and English speakers and tend to be an hour in length. Some class topics included in the program are prenatal care, nutrition, childbirth, newborn care, breastfeeding/bottle feeding, etc.

A Baby’s Closet is a program from Associated Churches, where parents can receive coupons redeemable for clothing, furniture, and supplies for a baby in exchange for attending sessions about nutrition and parenting, keeping prenatal and well-child appointments, childbirth classes, and keeping immunizations up-to-date for their children. 

The program offers clothing and equipment for parents or guardians who are facing hardships with children from newborn to age 3. They also offer support groups and classes focused on infant sleep and nutrition. Classes offered are by appointment only.

Through WIC, food nutrition counseling, and access to health services are offered and provided to low-income women, infants, and children. They also provide federal grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children who are found to be at any sort of nutritional risk. 
SCAN (Stop Child Abuse Now) offers free services by Healthy Families. No matter the age, new parents often need encouragement and support as they navigate the decisions and changes that come with having a baby. The services provide development information and checklists to assist parents in caring for their new babies. 

This story was made possible by Brightpoint.
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