Parents as Teachers supports El Paso families

For Ana Olivares, retiring last July should’ve been an exciting time but being home had her slightly nerve-racked. She was gearing up to be a full-time grandma to her 3-year old granddaughter, Mila, who she’d be tending to during the day.

“It had been a long time since I had been at home,” Olivares said. “I was preparing to have her with me every day and I’d ask myself, “What can I do to keep her interest? How do I go back to basics?"

Olivares wondered how she’d entertain such a bouncy and independent little girl. Luckily, she didn’t have to struggle much – if any – to find her answer. She had often seen the El Paso HOPES (Health Outcomes Through Prevention and Early Support) billboards around town and decided to call.

Funded by the State of Texas, HOPES is a group of community organizations – Avance-El Paso, Child Crisis Center, El Paso Center for Children, Paso del Norte Children’s Development Center and United Way of El Paso County – that have come together to make sure young El Paso children grow up in a safe and healthy environment.

Among the programs offered to assure positive development of children is United Way’s Parents as Teachers program which Olivares was referred to.  The free evidence-based home visitation program believes that a parent is a child’s first and best teacher. By participating in the program, a family is assigned a trained parent educator who enhances a parent’s understanding of child development and interaction to make a difference in their child’s future success.

During the monthly visits with her parent educator, Olivares says she’s learned a lot about children’s brain development and nutritional needs as well safety hazards, lessons that she shares with her daughter.  Meanwhile, Mila eagerly looks forward to the home visits learns from crafts and activities specifically prepared for her age and interests.

“I like the attention the parent educator places on the family unit,” Olivares says. “I think it’s a beautiful program with highly trained educators. I wish this program had existed when I was starting out as a mother – a million years ago!”

By participating in the program parents will learn how to detect any developmental delays and health issues, how to increase their child’s school readiness and how to strengthen their bond. The PAT program also offers a family other incentives such as regular health and developmental child screenings, a network of community resources, and events that promote group learning.

Now Olivares says the stress of entertaining her granddaughter is gone. She says she’s learned how to replace hours of TV with recreational and academic activities that benefit not only the development of Mila but also her other grandchildren who she occasionally cares for. It’s been a year since Olivares enrolled and she says it’s benefited her family as a whole.

“It’s brought us closer,” Olivares said. “I began to realize that it’s not about the quantity of time I spend with my grandchildren but the quality of time. We can be with the kids 24/7, but it might not mean much when it’s not quality time.”