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.

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