Legislative Support Signals Commitment to Improve Tennessee early education

Early education advocates across Tennessee are cheering results of the 2019 Tennessee legislative session that include a slate of approved policy proposals aimed at boosting learning prior to third grade as a strategy to improve Tennessee’s public education system.

Highlights include a new pilot to create a network of early grades literacy and math coaches to help teachers in the state’s lowest performing schools, an increase in funding for evidence-based home visiting (EBHV) programs, and ongoing funding and more robust training and improvements for Pre-K and kindergarten teachers who use the portfolio model to measure academic growth. And the Tennessee General Assembly formed a bipartisan House and Senate caucus to provide exclusive focus on early education policy.

Altogether, approval of these policies delivers a successful outcome to an agenda of the state’s leading early education advocates, said Mike Carpenter, executive director of Tennesseans for Quality Early Education (TQEE).

“This was a very successful legislative session for our youngest students and an indication that Tennessee is committed to building a stronger early education system,” Carpenter said. “All Tennesseans want better education outcomes. The policies supported by the General Assembly and Lee administration move Tennessee in the right direction of building a more robust system of quality education for children from birth to third grade and to accelerate progress that helps Tennessee kids get a smart start in life.  This legislative session was a necessary step to address the unacceptable condition of our student’s proficiency scores and begin to build a foundation that produces better outcomes.”

While in the past decade Tennessee made strides as one of the most improved states in education outcomes, it still ranks in the bottom half of all states. Most Tennessee students in grades 3-12 are not proficient in math or English; by the third grade, most Tennessee students are behind and remain there.

TQEE was formed to address poor proficiency and advocate for strong early education programs that can help students get a strong start that ensures they are proficient before they enter third grade. TQEE achieved success on its 2019 policy agenda, which included the coaching pilot program, maintaining the state’s commitment to voluntary Pre-K and EBHV programs.

Governor Bill Lee’s administration increased financial support to create a coaching pilot to support early grades teachers in low performing schools and the General Assembly provided additional funding to support EBHV programs that help connect parents with community resources to assist parenting, health, development and learning of their young children.

Creation of the coaching pilot is a strategic approach to provide early grades teachers with greater support as the state works toward a goal to increase the percentage of third graders who are reading, writing and doing math on grade level from about 37 percent today to 75 percent by 2025. Embedding instructional coaches in schools to support teachers is proven to be a successful tool to improve teaching and student outcomes.

EBHV is a nationally proven programming that is successfully applied in many Tennessee communities to assist young parents, improve their parenting skills, reduce abuse and neglect, improve health of babies and ready children for learning. Studies demonstrate that EBHV has an impressive $5.70 return for every $1 of public investment through reduction of costs for remedial education, public financial support, criminal justice and other societal impacts. “TQEE thanks Governor Lee, Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn, Senate Education Chairman Dolores Gresham, House Education Chairman White, Senator Steve Dickerson and Representative Bill Dunn, and the legislature for supporting strong early education,” Carpenter said.

Home Visiting’s Powerful Human Stories

Take a step back from the compelling financial return on investment of evidence-based home visiting (EBHV) policy to study the true impact of this vital program through the lives of Tennessee children.

While home visiting boasts a remarkable $5.70 positive return for every $1 investment, it’s most powerful performance measure is best viewed via the experiences of thousands of Tennessee children around the state whose lives – and futures – are improved.

Home visiting is a voluntary program that works by deploying professionals to visit families in their homes to coach parents on how to support their child’s healthy development as well as offer connections to additional community resources and services to meet their child’s health, developmental and learning needs.

This evidence-based solution has repeatedly proven to strengthen bonding between mothers and infants, improve parenting skills, reduce abuse and neglect, improve health of parents and babies, and ready children for their school years.

The experiences told by Hunter and his mother Tyne in Nashville, and Itzel, Carlos and Alia in Nashville, and, through a terrific report in The Commercial Appeal by Jennifer Pignolet, the story of Shante and Ja’Mykal in Shelby County, illustrate the amazing impact of home visiting. Their stories demonstrate the real bottom line – home visiting works. By voluntarily accessing local community home visiting resources, parents are placing their children on a path to life-long success.

The preservation and expansion of these vital programs is essential for Tennessee’s most vulnerable children and families, but there are still far too many families with no access to help. At the current level of funding, Tennessee can provide home visiting services to only 1.7% of the children who would qualify for services. And of the 95 counties in Tennessee, 45 counties have no home visiting services at all.

These are the stories that go beyond ROI:

Sometimes a picture says a lot.

Hunter is building a tower out of colored blocks with his mom and his friend Tevri at home. It’s a photo that was years in the making, in part because of his involvement in one of Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee’s most successful development programs.  The “I did it” badge he’s wearing reflects the confidence and accomplishment Hunter has experienced through his family’s participation in the program.

After she became pregnant, Hunter’s mother Tyne was referred by a friend to Healthy Families Tennessee, a home visiting program that provides weekly support for parents from pregnancy through when their child enters kindergarten. That’s how she met Tevri, a PCAT visitor.

“[Tevri] would just come once a week and she would go over where I should be at in my stage of pregnancy and just help me get ready for the baby,” Tyne says. “And then after Hunter was born, she would still come by on a weekly basis and teach me about his milestones.”

As Hunter got older, Tevri would mark his progress on everything from word acquisition to motor skills, often working with Hunter outside, drawing shapes with sidewalk chalk and mastering colors. The program provides what Tyne calls a “full spectrum,” helping her son master everything from letters and numbers, to recognizing emotions, to how to deal with them effectively.

Read the rest of the story here.

Itzel is protective of her mother today, forgiving her with words even though she didn’t have the easiest childhood.

“My mom didn’t know any better and she definitely didn’t have anyone to turn to,” she says.

Itzel’s mother called her names and made her daughter feel unwanted and unloved. It’s tough to grow up strong when you are neglected and told that you are a burden.

As a young adult, Itzel found support four years ago at a community baby shower on the Tennessee State University campus. Newly pregnant and “completely scared,” she learned about Healthy Families, an evidence-based home visitation (EBHV) program from Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee (PCAT) designed to support parents from pregnancy through kindergarten.

Determined to be a better mother than her own, Itzel was attracted to an opportunity through Healthy Families to obtain strong parenting skills and to make certain her daughter has a bright future.

Read the rest of this story.

Starting at home: visitation programs seek to aid vulnerable children in Shelby County

By Jennifer Pignolet, The Commercial Appeal, October 11, 2018

After three years, Cassandra Ruffin knows the first rule of visiting the Dennard family.”You cannot come into this home with only one book,” Ruffin said. 

So although she’s there specifically to check in on 3-year-old Ja’Mykal, she arrives at the Oakhaven town home with a bag of children’s books for the boy and his two older siblings. 

The three children sit on the edge of a tan couch and the carpeted living room floor, tearing into a picture book about a bumpy pumpkin and a Disney-themed alphabet paperback. Their mother, 33-year-old medical assistant Shante Dennard, helps Ja’Mykal turn the pages and reads aloud to him. 

It’s that interaction that Ruffin wants to see between Dennard and her children. 

Ruffin is a parent educator with Porter-Leath, an early childhood organization in Shelby

County. She’s known the Dennard family since before Ja’Mykal was born. 

The family is part of a bi-weekly home visitation program called Parents As Teachers that provides social services and support to about 300 clients with young children, all done out of the client’s home. Many families, but not all in the program, live below the poverty line.

Read the rest of the story.

Early Home Visiting Programs: Compassionate and Cost-Effective Policy

Backed by compelling data and amazing personal success stories, Tennessee Senator Steve Dickerson and Speaker Pro Tempore Bill Dunn are advancing an important solution to help parents develop the skills they need to give their young children a great start in life: increasing the state’s investment in voluntary, evidenced-based home visiting.

Home visiting professionals visit families in their homes to coach parents on how to support their child’s healthy development, as well as offer connections to additional community resources and services to meet their child’s health, developmental and learning needs.

This evidence-based solution has repeatedly proven to strengthen bonding between mothers and infants, improve parenting skills, reduce abuse and neglect, improve health of parents and babies, and ready children for their school years.

“In short, voluntary home visiting programs change lives,” Kristen Rector, CEO of Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee (PCAT), recently stated. “We know that parents are their child’s first teacher and home visiting empowers parents to be the best they can be.”

PCAT, through its Nurturing Parenting and Healthy Families Tennessee, is the largest provider of voluntary evidence-based home visiting in the state.

“Of the children and families who benefit from the program, 98 percent show improvement in key areas, ranging from health to school readiness,” Rector said. “And with the proper nurturing in these early, formative years, children are better set up for success later in life. It’s even been linked to improvements in children’s behavior, cognitive development, performance in school and graduation rates.”

There is also considerable evidence that home visiting generates strong ROI: investments in home visiting programs reduce negative societal impacts immediately and in the long run. That transformation saves taxpayers substantial money by providing a return on investment of up to $5.70 for every $1 invested through reducing costs associated with child abuse, poor health and academic failure, and a corresponding increase in economic self-sufficiency.

The positive impact of home visiting is clear but Tennessee’s challenge is the need, which far outweighs what is currently available. Tennessee is home to 118,580 children younger than 5 who live in poverty, which often creates conditions leading to toxic stress and childhood trauma. At the current level of funding, Tennessee is only able to provide home visiting services to less than 2 percent of those children. And of the 95 counties in Tennessee, 45 have no home visiting services at all.

Dickerson, Dunn, Representative Gary Hicks and Representative Ryan Williams are among the legislative champions of investments in evidence-based home visiting programs (EBHV).  Tennesseans for Quality Early Education applauds legislative leadership on this vital effort and urges the Tennessee General Assembly to support their request for an additional investment of $1.5 million in home visiting this budget year.

The reasons are clear: Home visiting works. It is vital to the health and well-being of children, families, and communities. And it is enormously popular in Tennessee with a 70 percent approval rating among voters, according to a TQEE survey conducted in 2018.

The benefits of home visiting far outlast and outweigh the investments, as evidenced improvements in maternal, newborn and child health, reductions in child abuse and neglect; improved parent-child bonding; and improvements in children’s school readiness. 

These are exactly the powerful outcomes Tennesseans want – and deserve – from public investments.

More about Home Visiting

You have probably noticed we talk a lot about home visiting. That’s because it works! Unfortunately, even though the evidence continues to show the benefits of evidence-based home visiting, less than 2% of eligible Tennessee children have access. Put another way, of Tennessee’s 95 counties 45 do not have any type of home visiting program.

Here are few more resources supporting home visiting. Take a look and become a voice in support.

Why Evidenced-Based Home Visiting and ACEs Training for Early Childhood Workers Matters

The Research Case for Home Visiting

5 Things to Know About Early Childhood Home Visiting

Evidence-Based Home Visiting in Tennessee

I did it!

Sometimes a picture says a lot.

Hunter is building a tower out of colored blocks with his mom and his friend Tevri at home. It’s a photo that was years in the making, in part because of his involvement in one of Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee’s most successful development programs.  The “I did it” badge he’s wearing reflects the confidence and accomplishment Hunter has experienced through his family’s participation in the program.

After she became pregnant, Hunter’s mother Tyne was referred by a friend to Healthy Families Tennessee, a home visiting program that provides weekly support for parents from pregnancy through when their child enters kindergarten. That’s how she met Tevri, a PCAT visitor.

“[Tevri] would just come once a week and she would go over where I should be at in my stage of pregnancy and just help me get ready for the baby,” Tyne says. “And then after Hunter was born, she would still come by on a weekly basis and teach me about his milestones.”

As Hunter got older, Tevri would mark his progress on everything from word acquisition to motor skills, often working with Hunter outside, drawing shapes with sidewalk chalk and mastering colors. The program provides what Tyne calls a “full spectrum,” helping her son master everything from letters and numbers, to recognizing emotions, to how to deal with them effectively.

Healthy Families is an evidence-based home visiting program (EBHV) that provides support during one of the most important periods in a child’s life, birth to age 5, when 80 percent of brain development occurs. Getting the right start is crucial, because healthy brain development is essential for later learning and health. Research on home visiting program shows it improves maternal, newborn and child health, reduces child maltreatment, improves parenting skills, improves school readiness.  And these programs are backed by compelling proof of a strong ROI: it gets returns of up to $5.70 in taxpayer savings for every $1 invested through reduction of costs for remedial education, child protection and criminal justice.

The program also gave Tyne and her spouse effective coping techniques, something she says she never learned growing up.

“We learned a lot of stuff as a family, but also my husband and I learned a lot as a couple,” she says. “The main focus was on being a healthy family as a whole, but it also helped me and my husband because, I’m sure you know, husbands and wives have stupid fights over stupid things.”

Hunter’s success in the program will lead to his graduation in December. Tyne says he’s currently on the letter “G” and in the advanced part of his daycare class, in part because of the leg up that Healthy Families Tennessee and Tevri gave him. As he approaches his fourth birthday, the Paw Patrol-obsessed Hunter even likes a little homework.

“It’s crazy, I know,” Tyne says. And then you begin to realize why he got the “I Did It” button in the photo.

The program has had such an impact that Tyne has even become an advocate for PCAT, speaking before the state legislature about her experiences.

“I actually highly suggest it to any of my friends that I know that are going to have a baby,” Tyne says. “I recommend it any time that I can because the benefits that we have received through Healthy Families have just been amazing, and I honestly, I don’t know where I would be at without the program.”

Today, Tennessee only supports programs like this in about half of our 95 counties.  We can do better!  Stay tuned for emails that let you know when and how to share your voice of support with our elected leaders!

By Mike, Lisa and the TQEE team

Starting at Home: Improving Early Learning Via Home Visits

Jennifer Pignolet of the Memphis Commercial Appeal wrote a terrific article last week describing Porter Leath’s home visiting program and its impact. Read her article HERE.

We’ve also written a blog post about a family served through Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee’s early home visiting program, which you can read HERE.

Home visiting professionals visit families in their homes to coach parents on how to support their child’s healthy development as well as offer connections to additional community resources and services to meet their child’s health, developmental and learning needs.

This evidence-based solution has repeatedly proven to strengthen bonding between mothers and infants, improve parenting skills, reduce abuse and neglect, improve health of parents and babies, and ready children for their school years. There is also considerable evidence that home visiting generates strong ROI: investments in home visiting programs reduce negative societal impacts immediately and in the long run, in turn saving taxpayers substantial money by providing a return of up to $5.70 for every $1 invested.

Under the Haslam Administration, Tennessee has been supportive of home visiting administered through the Department of Health and supported by the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth. This year, Representative Ryan Williams (R-Cookeville) and Senators Becky Massey (R-Knoxville) and Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville) led legislative approval for an additional $1.4 million in recurring funding to boost the annual home visiting budget to $3.4 million.

The preservation and expansion of these vital programs is essential for Tennessee’s most vulnerable children and families, but there are still far too many families with no access to help. At the current level of funding, Tennessee is able to provide home visiting services to only 1.7% of the children who would qualify for services. And of the 95 counties in Tennessee, 45 counties have no home visiting services at all.

Adding to the urgent need for expanded home visiting is the efficacy of home visiting services to combat the negative consequences of the opioid epidemic. Arguably, no state is affected by the opioid scourge more than Tennessee where last year nearly 1,000 babies were born addicted to the drugs and where there are more opioid prescriptions in our state than there are Tennesseans. The opioid crisis affects every Tennessee community, causing damage to families and posing dangerous risk to the healthy development of young people. Expanded home visiting can be a potent complement to Governor Haslam’s Tennessee Together plan to fight opioids because it can mitigate ACEs stemming from the trauma of substance abuse and strengthen bonds between parents and their children.

As we highlighted in newspapers across Tennessee this past April, investing in home visiting is smart policy for Tennessee. TQEE and our coalition members are engaging General Assembly leadership and will work with Governor Haslam’s successor to advocate support for high quality early childhood programs, including evidenced-based home visiting, as a priority.

Mike, Lisa and the TQEE Team

A Young Mother Learns to Help Her Baby Girl Thrive

Itzel is protective of her mother today, forgiving her with words even though she didn’t have the easiest childhood.

“My mom didn’t know any better and she definitely didn’t have anyone to turn to,” she says.

Itzel’s mother called her names and made her daughter feel unwanted and unloved. It’s tough to grow up strong when you are neglected and told that you are a burden.

As a young adult, Itzel found support four years ago at a community baby shower on the Tennessee State University campus. Newly pregnant and “completely scared,” she learned about Healthy Families, an evidence-based home visitation (EBHV) program from Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee (PCAT) designed to support parents from pregnancy through kindergarten.

Determined to be a better mother than her own, Itzel was attracted to an opportunity through Healthy Families to obtain strong parenting skills and to make certain her daughter has a bright future.

EBHV is nationally proven programming that is successfully applied in many Tennessee communities to assist young parents, improve their parenting skills, reduce abuse and neglect, improve health of parents and babies, and readly children for learning. EBHV is backed by compelling proof of strong ROI: a return of $5.70 in taxpayer savings for every $1 investment through reduction of costs for remedial education, public financial support, criminal justice and other societal impacts.

Through the course of her pregnancy, PCAT resources Nurturing Families and Healthy Families Tennessee provided in-home support that helped Itzel bond with her baby. Once a week, a PCAT representative came to Itzel’s house to help monitor her daughter’s progress, showing her how big Alia was growing while also counseling Itzel on what to expect once she arrived.

After Alia’s birth, the focus of Healthy Families turned more toward the young girl’s development, tracking progress and strengthening her bond with Itzel. For a new mother, every milestone presents challenges: Why is my baby crying? How will she learn to crawl? To walk? To speak? Dealing with development can be stressful and PCAT was there at every step along the way, from potty training to preparing Alia to begin school.

Through proven education and instruction from trained professionals, Itzel is now establishing a foundation for ongoing nurture of her child’s physical, cognitive and emotional development. The earliest years of a person’s life are foundational and long lasting.

Healthy Families is PCAT’s largest and most intensive program, intervening at a time in a child’s life when 80 percent of brain development occurs. This period is an essential building block for child success as it is fundamentally related to lifelong learning and health. .

The nonprofit uses the Growing Great Kids curriculum to teach a wide array of topics, including child safety and all aspects of development. The evidence-based program has been proven to improve maternal, newborn and child health as well as reduce child maltreatment. And for Alia, now 4 years old, it’s improved her readiness for school.

Itzel said the organization has made a difference in two lives.

“Without Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee and the support of my home visitor,” Itzel says, “I know that my relationship with Alia would have been exactly like what I had with my mom. And I’m so grateful that it’s not.”

Healthy Families helped again when Itzel met her husband Carlos, with a visitor helping the couple learn how to co-parent effectively, ensuring that Alia’s physical, social and emotional development continued.

“I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned from this program is how to develop trust between myself and Alia,” says Carlos. “I didn’t have that with my parents, and I think our relationship was negatively affected.”

The result of all of the time invested in Alia’s early years? She earned a scholarship to Overbrook School, a prestigious private elementary school in Nashville. Now she’s on a path for success with a strong home to support her.

Mike, Lisa and the TQEE Team

Tackling Tennessee’s Opioid Crisis Through Quality Early Learning Programs

Last week a group of Chattanooga leaders, including Mayor Andy Berke and U.S. Representative Chuck Fleischmann, along with TQEE coalition partners from business, law enforcement, military, nonprofit and faith communities, held a summit at the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce titled “Caring for Young Victims of the Opioid Crisis”. The purpose was to highlight the epidemic’s growing adverse impact on parents and young children and how quality early learning programs can help them cope.

In addition to the elected officials, speakers included:

At the event, which was organized by the Tennessee office of Council for a Strong America,  a new report was released outlining how early childhood programs are a critical part of the solution to Tennessee’s opioid epidemic.

Exposure to family opioid-addiction and other substance abuse is one of a litany of adverse childhood experiences, known as ACEs, that cause emotional trauma which can diminish young child brain development, future learning and health. When young children have access to high quality early childhood programs such as evidenced-based home visiting, quality childcare and pre-k, their brain development is positively impacted and the negative influence of ACEs is diminished.

As the impact of childhood trauma continues to permeate child-serving institutions, Tennessee’s teachers, social workers, pediatricians and caregivers are changing the way they interact with children who have been subjected to ACEs. Of the many techniques and programs developed to provide trauma-informed care, home visiting is among the most studied and evidence-based approaches to mitigating or preventing childhood trauma.

Not as many people know as much about home visiting programs as they do about other types of early education, so we thought we’d take a minute here to share some information about it.

Home visiting professionals visit families in their homes to coach parents on how to support their child’s healthy development as well as offer connections to additional community resources and services to meet their child’s health, developmental and learning needs.

This evidence-based solution has repeatedly proven to strengthen bonding between mothers and infants, improve parenting skills, reduce abuse and neglect, improve health of parents and babies, and ready children for their school years. There is also considerable evidence that home visiting generates strong ROI: investments in home visiting programs reduce negative societal impacts immediately and in the long run, in turn saving taxpayers substantial money by providing a return of up to $5.70 for every $1 invested.

Under the Haslam Administration, Tennessee has been supportive of home visiting administered through the Department of Health and supported by the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth. This year, Representative Ryan Williams (R-Cookeville) and Senators Becky Massey (R-Knoxville) and Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville) led legislative approval for an additional $1.4 million in recurring funding to boost the annual home visiting budget to $3.4 million.

The preservation and expansion of these vital programs is essential for Tennessee’s most vulnerable children and families, but there are still far too many families with no access to help. At the current level of funding, Tennessee is able to provide home visiting services to only 1.7% of the children who would qualify for services. And of the 95 counties in Tennessee, 45 counties have no home visiting services at all.

Adding to the urgent need for expanded home visiting is the efficacy of home visiting services to combat the negative consequences of the opioid epidemic. Arguably, no state is affected by the opioid scourge more than Tennessee where last year nearly 1,000 babies were born addicted to the drugs and where there are more opioid prescriptions in our state than there are Tennesseans. The opioid crisis affects every Tennessee community, causing damage to families and posing dangerous risk to the healthy development of young people. Expanded home visiting can be a potent complement to Governor Haslam’s Tennessee Together plan to fight opioids because it can mitigate ACEs stemming from the trauma of substance abuse and strengthen bonds between parents and their children.

As we highlighted in newspapers across Tennessee this past April, investing in home visiting is smart policy for Tennessee. TQEE and our coalition members are engaging General Assembly leadership and will work with Governor Haslam’s successor to advocate support for high quality early childhood programs, including evidenced-based home visiting, as a priority.

Mike, Lisa and the TQEE Team

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