When renowned pediatrician and Waco native Dr. T. Berry Brazelton spoke at a local fundraiser nearly four years ago, he challenged his hometown to join a network of more than 130 cities that use his approach to strengthen children and families in their communities.
Since then, a coalition of local officials involved in child care, health care, social services and academia has worked together to do just that.
September will mark the first anniversary of Waco being an official member of Brazelton’s network, which is based out of his center near Boston.
So far, nearly 150 local professionals have been trained in the so-called Touchpoints method, including several local child care workers, coordinator Joyce Nuner said.
During the next year, the group plans to train more day care workers, while also concentrating on bringing the approach to people who work for social service agencies such as Child Protective Services, she said.
The goal is for everyone who works with children and families to be trained, including people such as librarians and police officers, said Pamela Marcum, a local social worker who is one of the coalition’s trainers. The more people who use the approach, the bigger impact it will have, she said.
“Being a parent is a hard job, and if we can support that, we’ll be better off as a community,” said Marcum, who works in early childhood intervention.
The Touchpoints name comes from Brazelton’s 60 years of research on the timing of developmental milestones during early childhood. Knowing when children are developing new skills like crawling is critical because it can explain behavior that baffles and annoys parents, he said.
Take a 12-month-old, for example, Marcum said. After finally developing a normal sleep pattern, the baby often starts waking up again.
The usual culprit is that the baby is learning to walk and pulling herself up on the crib rails at night, Marcum said. If parents know that, it can help them better cope with the sleep interruptions, she said.
“The reason the baby is standing up in the middle of the night is because she can,” Marcum said. “This isn’t a problem. This is a celebration.”
But such developmental knowledge is just one component of Brazelton’s approach, Nuner said. The main thrust of his method is that parents are the experts on their children, and they want to do right by them.
While that may sound like common sense, Nuner said, people who work with children can slip into a mode in which they think their professional training makes them the expert. They may look for ways to “fix” a child or family, rather than working with them to find solutions to challenges, she said.
“It’s a mindset change to seeing the parent as a partner,” said Nuner, who is an assistant professor of child and family studies at Baylor University. “Even if they have only one strength, you work from that.”
For example, Nuner said, during a meeting between a parent and a day care worker or teacher, the tendency might be for the professional to rattle off a list of what the child is doing wrong or developmental challenges the child is facing.
With Touchpoints, the teacher instead would ask the parent what he or she sees at home. Inevitably, some of the professional’s concerns will surface, which can lead to a dialogue about possible solutions. Praising positive steps the parent already is taking is key, Nuner said.
Kathy Philyaw, another coalition trainer and owner of the Little Cougar child care center in China Spring, said people in her classes have said the training was a “light- bulb experience.” One thing that really sinks in, she said, is that families are less likely to act on information offered by professionals if rapport hasn’t been established.
For families, the development information is what seems to be the most helpful with the Touchpoints approach, Philyaw said. Many parents, especially those from low- income backgrounds, don’t understand that their child’s behavior at certain points is caused by progress toward developmental milestones, she said.
“They just think they have a bad kid,” Philyaw said.
To become a Touchpoints site, communities must send a core group of professionals through training so the approach can be implemented broadly within that city. Some then become certified as trainers to teach others.
For Waco, the initial cost was about $50,000, paid for by local grants and contributions from the agencies of coalition members, Nuner said.
Those agencies range from Baylor University and the Region 12 Education Service Center to Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center and Heart of Texas Workforce Development Board.
About 10 percent of local day care workers have been trained so far, Nuner said.
She said she is optimistic that percentage will significantly increase since the workforce board recently agreed to cover the training cost for employees of child care centers that receive state money to subsidize the care of children from low-income families. The 16-hour training costs $90 per person, an amount that lets the coalition break even on materials and food costs, she said.
One unique benefit the Waco coalition has going in its favor is that Brazelton is especially beloved here because of his local roots, Nuner said.
“He is so reputable in the field, but that hometown connection does make it even more” appealing to people, she said.
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