Monday, July 27, 2009

Study Tour finale

Days Four and Five

The last days were so busy, there was no time to write. On day four we had a final meeting with the Addison Parent Child Center and talked about the importance of working together, how to use creative tension amongst various programs to produce better work with and for moms, and encouragement to keep checking with the moms about what they want and their opinions on various issues.

Then we visited the Lund Family Center. This was a particularly interesting place to visit as it began as a home for unwed moms in the the late 1890s. For the 80 years or so of existence, the primary services they provided were a home for pregnant women who needed a safe and invisible place to stay and give birth to their babies, and then an adoption service to place almost all of those babies, in new families. With changes in abortion law, welfare programs and major cultural shifts, by the 1980s the center was making big changes. Today the center offers residential programs for pregnant and parenting young moms and their babies, child care, education, substance abuse, foster family training and support, adoption, nutrition and so much more. They have just completed a remodel of their building and it is not only very beautiful, but clearly able to provide appropriate space for the current program.

We were treated to talk with Governor Madeline Kunin, former Governor of Vermont and the first (and only so far) woman governor in Vermont. She stressed with us the need to support women in all walks of life, to find their voices and participate in the political life of the community. Whether this is running for office or attending city council meetings or writing for the paper, women’s views are essential in creating a world that works better for moms. She is such an inspiration. She stressed that the intersection of poverty and single parent families is a huge issue and must be addressed with social supports, education for the parents and children, health care, housing and counseling where needed. She also stressed the role of good sex education in the schools for prevention.

Then we were off to the University of Vermont to learn more about the impact of early childhood education on the lives of vulnerable young children. High quality, early education clearly prevents much human suffering and saves the government a great deal of money. We had a chance to talk about special education in the school and a number of other topics related to supporting children with challenges.

That evening we flew to NYC.

The fifth day of our tour included visiting the UN building and meeting with a member of the Korean mission to the UN. We shared with her work that is being done in Korea for unwed moms and some thoughts about what still needs to be done. We met with the National Center for Children in Poverty and learned a lot about their research and the materials they make available for groups that advocate for the needs of children. They work in close cooperation with state governments and advocates and others concerned about creating effective, timely and affordable programs that support the best development and healthy outcomes for children who grow up in poor families. The breadth of the issues they address include income support, health, education, mental health, juvenile justice, and family laws.

All in all this was a fantastic study tour. Much was learned. We are looking forward to being in Seoul soon, to carry on discussions began on this trip, to share with others some of our learning and to continue to support those working in Korea on behalf of unwed moms and the moms themselves.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Day Three of the Study Tour

Day Three

We started this morning again at the Addison Parent Child Center, answering a number of lingering questions. The staff at the Center have been extremely helpful, kind and so very knowledgeable. We learned more about how they nurture young moms toward independence, at the moms own pace. The definition they gave us of empowering moms is to provide the skills, support and knowledge so that moms have the resources to make choices for themselves and their children. They teach all sorts of skills, provide emotional, financial and practical support and information and education. Then the moms are in a much better place to make the decisions about what they do and how they do it. We have seen many examples of this in practice and found this a very useful definition.

Then we were off to the Washington County Parent Child Center. This center has a new, beautiful and highly functional child care center. And an older building that is mostly offices. Almost all of the work they do with families is out in the community, in moms’ homes, and various kinds of community centers. While their philosophy is similar to the Addison PC/C their implementation is quite different. It was good to see how programs can be constructed quite differently toward similar goals. We also learned about how they juggle many different funding streams and the related tension, in order to pay for their programs.

We then whisked off to the Vermont capital building in Montpelier to meet with people who had been advocating for children and families for many years. We learned how they had built a coalition and network of people from many different kinds of organizations, who have worked together over the years on shared agendas. They have learned how to tell compelling stories backed up with hard data and statistics. They can mobilize people who care and who are affected by issues, to bring to the legislature from many different districts. It is powerful when people from many different kinds of organizations and with many different concerns can speak together for a particular shared issue.

We also learned more about the parentage laws created in Vermont in the late 1980s. Until then, a parent who was never married had to file something called a bastardy action in order to get child support for and custody of their child. Now there are parentage laws that stipulate how judges review custody and set child support and other related issues. If a parent doesn’t pay the child support, there are ways the state can help collect it and can also impose penalties such as the loss of a drivers license. This has not only increased the financial support of children, but in many cases has increased fathers involvement with their children. We heard how this and other important advances such as the family court system, took a number of years to achieve. Like all big changes, it took the work of many people, from many different perspectives over about 8 years to accomplish.

We then were treated to a conversation with people from the Vermont Department of Children and Families. We came to understand that the people of Vermont truly believe that it is a societal obligation to help care for children, not just a private family concern. All of society benefits from healthy children and all pay for the problems of troubled youth and adults. We learned more about the many social supports that unwed moms might be eligible for, and how some of those systems work. Moms, depending on their income and other circumstances, might get a cash stipend – often called welfare; health insurance; support for child care if she is working or in school or job training; rental assistance so her rent is free or low cost; food stamps to help with food purchases; WIC (a federal program) that provides well children check ups, nutritional education and food, and other health related supports for mothers and very young children; help paying heating bills and the cost of a basic phone line; and possibly help with the cost of school, job training, and transportation. And there are possibly a few other benefits from other state departments. We heard how one of the weak links in this system is the availability of rental support. There are not enough apartments available and not enough subsidies, so that there is a real problem of homelessness for some families.

We ended the day with yet another lovely dinner, hosted by our friends looking out over Camels Hump Mountain, enjoying Korean food and home made pie. Such a hardship. Over great food we had some time to reflect on what we are learning and what it might mean for our Korean colleagues.

Day Two of the Study Tour

Day Two of the Study Tour
Today we spent the whole day at the Addison County Parent Child Center . We had a chance to experience the family atmosphere of the place, from breakfast through dinner, we were enfolded in the warmth and caring of staff and participants. It is clear that this becomes a family place, quite literally, for participants and also staff.

We met with moms and one dad, who shared their stories of how the PC/C helped them finish school, make good decisions in their lives, find housing, get job training, learn about parenting and even learn Taikwando. We talked with staff about how they work with moms to co create programs. We could hear, see and feel how the program works to support moms in addressing all the issues in their lives. We even noticed the condoms in a basket in the bathroom – making it easy to access birth control without even having to ask!

We were honored to have a panel of highly skilled journalists share their experiences with us and brainstorm together about how the story of unwed moms in Korea, might get told. We learned a lot from them.

And we ended the day with a celebratory dinner with many of the families involved in the center, and other friends and family. It was a typical family gathering – children running around, adults holding babies so moms could get a bite of dinner, everyone admiring everyone else’s child, sharing stories, feeling at home.

While a similar Korean program would of course have many differences, we all had visions of various aspects of this program we would like to see in Korea. And of course there are already programs such as Aeranwon’s “Me, You, Us” program and the the new Hambumo Centers run by the government, that have started to offer some of these programs and which could be expanded. So much to learn.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

KUMSN study tour in the US

July 20th, 2009

The Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network has sponsored a study tour to the US. It started today. We are spending the first four days in Vermont, visiting the original Parent Child Center in Vermont – the Addison Parent Child Center, and a number of related organizations and efforts in Middlebury. Then we will visit two other Centers, meet with legislators, staff of the Agency of Human Services and others concerned about the well being of unwed mothers and their children. Finally we will fly to New York City to visit several programs there.

We started today with a discussion of why businesses are supporting services to single moms ( in the US we don’t distinguish why a woman is a single mom). Businesses believe that their success depends on a healthy economy which depends on a healthy community, which means that all residents need to be well educated, healthy, able to participate. They see that to accomplish this all children need reasonably good childhoods and education. And thus addressing the needs of single moms is important so they can provide this for their children.

One interesting aspect of the discussion had to do with how businesses can support women in the work place. Clearly one of the huge needs of single moms is to have employment that is sensitive to their need to care for their children if they get sick, or have a special event at school, or the like. Some businesses have done a much better job than others responding to the needs of women in the workforce. As one of the discussants said, her employer recognizes women bring hard work and talent to their workplaces, and does what they can to encourage their employment. A critical aspect of this is the availability of affordable, high quality day care.

We visited the Mary Johnson Childcare Center in Middlebury. This center serves about equal numbers of low income children whose tuition is paid for by the state, and well to do families who pay private tuition. One of the first things you notice about the center is how beautiful and well maintained it is. The Center believes that beauty is part of what children need. They have a constantly evolving curriculum, created between teachers and children. They serve a number of children with special needs, including physical and emotional disabilities. It was moving to see how much effort they make to communicate with parents the activities and development of their children. This center was developed to continue providing stimulating and nurturing childcare to the children from the Addison Parent Child Center, but has grown to be much more. This kind of child care is truly educational, built on the increasing understanding of how children’s brains and emotional selves develop. It is important for very young children who are in childcare all day to have stimulation, loving care, physical exercise, lots of play and good nutrition, in a very safe environment.

We then went to our first meeting at the Addison Parent Child Center. The center began as a program to serve teen mothers, but has evolved to serve the needs of many different kinds of families. While many of the parents served are single moms, they also work with single fathers and married couples. And of course they work with the children as well. PC/C provides parenting support, childcare, education and job training. They help parents address the challenges in their lives whether it be finishing high school or getting higher education, job training, learning to be a better parent, emotional support through counseling, and more. All parents spend some time working in the childcare rooms to learn about the needs of young children and how to best support their growth.

Interestingly we started with a panel discussion about the role of men and fathers, touching on the huge impact including men in childrearing has. The PC/C has found that men actively engaged in their children’s lives, even if no longer involved with the mothers, are much less likely to father more children. They come to appreciate and understand what it really means to bring new life in to the work and parent the child. We also learned more about the child support system in Vermont, and how parents are expected to financially support their children. Finally we heard from a legislator why he supported the expansion of this kind of program. He told us that for every dollar spent on programs like the PC/C, approximately $7 can be saved in the costs of incarceration, special education, health care costs, etc. The Parent Child Centers provide many services in one place, which makes it very accessible for parents and much more likely that they will get many of their needs met.

Finally we met some researchers. We learned that about ½ of pregnancies in the US are unplanned and not wanted or at least not wanted at this time. This contributes to abortion but also to complications such as low birth weight and maternal and infant mortality. One link is that because about 40-50% of lower income women don’t have health insurance , it can take several months before they know they are pregnant, and then sign up for and receive federally funded health coverage for their pregnancy. By then they are often in their fourth or even fifth month of pregnancy and a number of health related issues might have needed to be addressed early. We heard about the need to have conversations with young women of childbearing age concerning their pregnancy plans. Every health related visit can include the question – are you planning to get pregnant, and if not, how are you preventing it? Every woman, every time is the slogan for this approach .

After a long day, we were hosted to dinner on a Vermont sheep farm, and were treated to a beautiful sunset.

Tomorrow, more on parent child centers.