Planning for and guiding the early development of young children can be hard—even overwhelming—for many parents. This is particularly true for families with limited resources, or for parents taking on this important role for the first time. We need to think strategically about how we can make it easier for parents to understand children’s developmental needs and navigate through the sometimes daunting array of services and supports available to them.
This is the thinking behind Learning Begins at Birth, a guide that will be distributed later this year to new and expectant parents statewide as part of Nebraska’s federal Preschool Development Grant. The resource is being produced by a multi-organizational work group representing Nebraska Extension, the Nebraska Young Child Institute, Nebraska Departments of Education and Health and Human Services, Nebraska Children and Families Foundation, First Five Nebraska and other partners.
Up-to-date, easy-to-use resource
“Our goal was to produce an up-to-date, accurate and easy-to-use resource to address the needs of diverse families,” said Amy Napoli, Assistant Professor and Early Childhood Extension Specialist at University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Napoli leads the team responsible for redeveloping and updating the booklet’s content. “It’s intended to provide practical and important information for parents every step of the way—from the prenatal months through age 5. That covers maternal well-being, monitoring children’s health and nutrition, safety, parent-child interactions, choosing quality child care—even self-care for parents.”
The resource also includes information on how to access programs and services that support new parents. “Raising a young child takes a huge amount of focused attention and effort in the most ideal circumstances,” said Napoli. “That becomes even harder if your child has special developmental needs or your family faces other challenges. Trying to wade through information on developmental screenings or nutrition assistance programs can put a lot of pressure on any parent—even those with strong networks of support. We want Learning Begins at Birth to offset some of those pressures for Nebraska families.”
Parents play a crucial role
According to Adam Feser, Policy Associate at First Five Nebraska, Learning Begins at Birth reflects research showing that informed parenting plays a crucial role in children's developmental outcomes. But there are broader implications to consider as well. “Well-prepared, informed parenting also helps build stronger, nurturing families and cohesive communities,” said Feser, who co-leads the project workgroup. “State statute requires that every parent of a child born in Nebraska receives this information. Considering that we have the fifth highest fertility rate in the nation, this is about the long-term success of our state and its citizens.”
Although Learning Begins at Birth has been available since 2003 as a downloadable document, the current project marks the first coordinated effort to disseminate a fully revised version to the families it was intended for.
“The Preschool Development Grant is an opportunity to create a new and better resource and put a physical copy of it into parents’ hands at no cost to them or the agencies helping us distribute it,” said Feser.
The project workgroup will collaborate with local health departments, birthing hospitals, clinics, WIC centers, home visiting initiatives and other service providers to distribute the booklet in both English and Spanish toward the end of 2019. Depending on the availability of continued funding, the resource may be offered in additional languages and formats in the coming year.
If you represent an agency serving new and expectant parents and would like to participate in distributing copies of Learning Begins at Birth, please fill out our online stakeholder survey.