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.

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