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February 2013

Keeping Baby on Track when Mom is in School

With a grant to the Center for Children’s Initiatives, staff in high school and CUNY child care facilities are being trained to assess and foster social and emotional development of infants and toddlers.

Babies of teen mothers often start off behind the curve: premature birth, poverty, and inexperienced parenting threaten their ability to relate, cooperate, show initiative, or exercise self-control as they grow. Without developing these skills, a child will face a lifetime of challenges and have a difficult time learning and participating in a regular classroom.

While their mothers go to high school or community college, many of these little ones spend their days in care provided by the Department of Education and CUNY Community College child care programs. Most CUNY students balance work with studies, and many have the added stress of being new immigrants and English language learners. Because these children face so many obstacles, giving them the support they need is critical. Many teachers, however, are not trained to recognize and take action on social and emotional development cues and red flags.

With a $50,000 grant, the Center for Children’s Initiatives will work with the Devereux Early Childhood Initiative to train teachers in these child care facilities to assess children’s social and emotional development, and work with parents to bring the nurturing home.

If a 2-year-old hits her playmates or gets easily frustrated and throws tantrums, her young parents may not know how to show her other ways of getting what she needs or expressing herself. “Parents will often yell or tell their toddler ‘No!’ but not explain why or help the child to get past her bad behavior,” says Nancy Kolben, the executive director of the Center.

“Infants and toddlers need love and nurturing care in order to feel valued, have a sense of security, and have healthy social and emotional functioning,” says Susan Damico, assistant director of the Devereux Center for Resilient Children. “Our programs show how every moment of every day is an opportunity to provide this care: through holding, making eye contact, smiling, singing, reading, and play.”

“Teachers know the importance of milestones, such as crawling, walking, and talking,” continues Kolben. When a child isn’t meeting these milestones, teachers know that intervention is necessary to help the child catch up. The Devereux Approach gives teachers a 5-step method to assess the behavior of infants and toddlers, help them build resiliency to cope with change and adversity, and to make sure the child is getting necessary help. It gives teachers and parents concrete tools to help children foster trust, play well with others, express their feelings, and develop patience.

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