Parents As Teachers prepares children for a stronger start in life

Candice Riggs holds a flower pot as her son, Jasper, paints it.

Candice Riggs holds a flower pot as her son, Jasper, paints it.

Candice Riggs patiently held a tiny clay flower pot as her son, Jasper, used a sponge brush to paint the front of it red. The 2-year-old boy then pointed to another plate with a different color of paint.

"Yes, that is black," Riggs told him. "You are so smart!"

Jasper sat at a table painting with other children and parents he didn't know - a big step for a little boy who has struggled with being around new people in different surroundings.

That's just one of several improvements Riggs has seen in Jasper since they began Parents As Teachers. This is an early childhood and family support program which, at no cost to the family, is designed to help children at risk for abuse and neglect. Parents and their young children are linked with parent educators who assist with the children's development through home visits, developmental screenings and other activities.

As part of the program, Riggs attends a monthly playgroup with other families. Riggs said the playgroup is helping Jasper learn to socialize.

"Now he doesn't freak out at the sight of strange people," she explained. "Before I had anxiety when he was exposed to other children because he has very strong opinions of things. If he doesn't want to do something he won't."

A parent educator began making weekly visits to Riggs' home when Jasper was 6 months old. He had been receiving services through Oakland Family Services' Early On for a developmental delay, and Riggs was concerned he would fall behind again without support. As her son got older, he also struggled with some behavioral issues.

"I was frustrated, I would have him sit on the floor and say 'No, don't do that' and five minutes later he would do it again," she recalled.

Through Parents As Teachers, Riggs learned a technique called redirection, which offers an alternative to an undesired behavior rather than just saying no. Riggs says it's working with Jasper.

"I'm willing to try anything they throw at me," she said.

Thanks to Parents as Teachers, Riggs is better able to help Jasper, and the 2-year-old's socialization and behavioral issues are continually improving. To learn more about the Parents as Teacher program, call Early Childhood Service Specialist Esther Lee at (248) 858-7766, ext. 1209 or email elee@ofsfamily.org