early childhood: engage
By Katie Thompson
[The following is an excerpt from the book.]
After a 9 a.m. class at community college, Onasha Presberry catches a bus to drop her daughter Omiyah off at daycare. She then returns to school for afternoon classes, and later leaves to pick up Omiyah at daycare. She spends a few hours at the weekly parenting class, and then finally goes home. But not for too long, because she needs to take a bus to her evening shift at the hospital where she works a part time job. And it’s only Monday.
Onasha, 21, is a single mother living in Pittsburgh, Pa., and most days of the week look as busy as Monday. She became pregnant the summer before her junior year of high school, and like many other young single mothers, said that she struggles to make ends meet.
“Right now I’m in a really tough spot,” she said. “The hardest part is knowing that sometimes I can’t give her what she wants and that’s really hard.”
Not only is she strapped for money, but also for time to spend with Omiyah. And research shows that for children born into low-income homes, time spent with parents is a major factor in escaping poverty later in life.
Onasha knows firsthand the constant tug-of-war between making money and spending quality time with her daughter. And for Onasha, that often means that one must come at the expense of the other. She’s pursuing a college degree and working a part time job to provide, but that consequently means less time spent with her daughter.
But Onasha has something that many others in her shoes don’t: a local community who sees the injustice of this tug-of-war that so many low-income parents feel. Onasha said her mother, Omiyah’s grandmother, has been an incredible support, but there’s another reason she feels hope for her future.
That additional support system is Angels' Place, which has been a fixture in the Pittsburgh community since 1984. The nonprofit provides no-pay child care and family support systems for single parents who meet low-income guidelines and are full-time students.
“For brain development purposes, we know that the first three years of life are critical,” Beth Banas, Executive Director of Angel’s Place, said. “Middle and upper class families have access to quality childcare, but there is definitely an underserved population that isn’t being informed and isn’t being given the same opportunities.”
“Every parent that enters, enters into a partnership,” she said. “We all work together collaboratively to create this supportive environment where people can thrive and develop and can learn to become sustainable and successful.”
In 2013, Angels' Place cared for 90 children of parents age 15 and up. Whether infants, toddlers or preschoolers, Beth said that there is always a one to three staff-child ratio.
“We want to ensure that our children are getting opportunities for one-on-one interaction, that they’re having intensive opportunities to practice skills, increase their vocabulary, and do the typical developmental exercises that other children experience within their families,” she said.
Unlike other childcare programs, Angel’s Place focuses just as much on the development of parents as it does their children. Parents must be enrolled full time in high school, college, or a school program, volunteer for three hours a week at Angels' Place, and participate in the parent education program that includes classes on parenting issues, development issues and more.
Promoting early childhood development and better parenting depends on organizations like Angels' Place, but the need for sound public policies that promote the values that Angels' Place upholds, is essential as well.
“Healthy children are raised by people and communities, not by government and professional services, but public policies and evidence based interventions can make a significant difference when caregivers and neighborhoods need assistance,” a study by the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University reported.
However, many existing policies give little attention to the child-parent time deficit or on the psychological resources that many young children are deprived of, the report found.
That’s what makes Angels' Place’s emphasis on a holistic approach that empowers parents and embeds them in a rich network of relationships, so vital. This includes staff, volunteers, local churches, the Department of Education’s hot meal program, a local food bank, schools, and more.
“Every partnership that we have brings a piece to the puzzle that we’d be missing if they weren’t there,” Beth said.
For a parent like herself, Onasha said this rich network of relationships has been a blessing.
“The parent meetings have definitely been a help in my journey,” Onasha said. “I think I’m doing pretty well for 21, and Angels' Place has been a great support.”