Culturally Relevant Home Visitors: Parent-Child Home Program Stories

The following two stories are cross posted from United Way King County. UWKC administers Best Starts funding to support and expand Parent-Child Home Program across King County.

When we match a family with a Parent-Child Home Program visitor, we identify a program coach who shares the same native language, culture and values as the family. Safaa Sadik, an Arabic-speaking Parent-Child Home Program Coordinator, says it’s about more than just speaking the same language.

Parent-Child Home Program Coordinator, Safaa Sadik

“It’s actually very important for this program to have a home visitor from the same culture. We’re visiting people in their own home so we have to know about their traditions and values. It builds trust.” – Safaa Sadik

Before becoming coordinator at Iraqi Community Services, Safaa was a home visitor for nine years, working with two- and three-year-old children of isolated families. She recognized that her families observed Ramadan and fasted. She knew to take her shoes off before entering families’ homes. Plus, she appreciated that when families offered tea or treats, you accept. It’s considered highly offensive in Iraqi culture to refuse refreshments.

Something else Safaa understood about Middle Eastern culture: the idea of developing young minds is not widely socialized. “I’m a big believer in early learning but that concept, that terminology, doesn’t exist in Middle Eastern culture.”

Safaa knew some families she worked with would be skeptical of Parent-Child Home Program, but she wasn’t discouraged. She held community gatherings to talk about early learning. During her family visits, she modeled positive interactions with the children using books and educational toys. This shows parents they are their child’s first and best teacher.

The nonbelievers changed their minds when they saw their children thrive in the program, but it’s not just first-hand accounts: there’s data to back up the effectiveness of Parent-Child Home Program. Kids who have gone through the program test higher in kindergarten than those who have not. What’s more, they still test higher as 3rd graders, meeting standards in reading and math.

In her new role as program coordinator, Safaa signs up new families while old ones, those families that have gone through the program, sometimes train to become home visitors themselves—something Safaa is proud of. “I love making a difference in my community.”

When Deborah landed a job as a customer service agent, the Seattle-area single mom was excited. It meant a steady paycheck and stability after fleeing Angola with her family and escaping challenges in South Africa. She could provide for her 3-year-old daughter Alaynah.

But Deborah soon discovered a downside to her new position: Her relatively modest earnings meant she didn’t qualify for subsidized childcare anymore. While Deborah found an elderly woman in the neighborhood who could watch Alaynah, she soon realized her daughter was missing out on valuable instructional time.

“Alaynah was being watched but not being taught anything. I worried about her not learning new things like she did in daycare.” – Deborah

Deborah soon learned about a free program engaging 2- and 3-year-old children with books and educational toys. She was skeptical that the program, Parent-Child Home Program,  could really make a difference. Staff at Congolese Integration Network, a nonprofit implementing Parent-Child Home Program, convinced her to give it a try.

“I have to say that I’m really impressed,” said Deborah. “For starters, Alaynah adores our home visitor, Evelyn. Every time someone knocks on the door, she hopes it’s her.”

Part of the success of the program lies in the unique approach taken to engage a child and her family in their home. The Parent-Child Home Program pairs a family with culturally relevant home visitors—people who share the same values and culture. It’s breaking down barriers for low-income families who often have resettled in King County from another country and for whom their native language is not English.

Children that start kindergarten behind their peers often stay behind throughout their educational journey, continuing the cycle of poverty. That’s why United Way King County piloted the Parent-Child Home Program, beginning with 150 families, then scaled it to serve 1,300 families every year.

The learning that occurs during the Parent-Child Home Program doesn’t just stay with the child; they help the parent learn to be their child’s first and best teacher.

“I was teaching her with videos, not toys, and there were some things she was struggling with that I didn’t know,” Deborah said. “Evelyn, our home visitor, has taught me to take my time with Alaynah.”

Deborah is confident Alaynah will be kindergarten-ready when she starts school, thanks in large part, to the Parent-Child Home Program. Alaynah, plus kids 1,300 other families every year, are stepping toward a strong start in kindergarten.

“I’ve learned what to teach Alaynah and what she needs.”

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