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The Vital Role of the Parent Child Center in the Bennington Region

The work of Early Childhood is a partnership of families, healthcare, mental health, early care, education, home visiting and community agencies.  The work that we do together is where there is an intersection similar to the center of a flower.

One of the partners at the table in Bennington is Sunrise Family Resource Center, the Bennington Parent Child Center.  Sunrise is one of the 15 parent child centers within the Vermont System.  Most regions have only one Parent Child Center (PCC), however, Chittenden has three and Orange Windsor have two.

Each of the Parent Child Centers can connect families to supports and services.  They have eight core services: (1) home visits, (2) early childhood services, (3) parent education, (4) playgroups, (5) parent support groups, (6) concrete supports, (7) community development, and (8) resource and referral.  Because of the differences in the twelve regions, each of the PCCs tailors these services to its population and their needs.  Parent Child Centers are a valuable resource and partner in our work to ensure that all children have a good start in health, education and family support. This post will highlight the importance of the work of Sunrise in the Bennington Region.

Sunrise has been a valuable partner and has been a part of the Bennington Community for 50 years.  Many of their services are for young children and their families.  However, Sunrise also provides youth development, a Reach Up program, and Intensive Family Based Services.

Sunrise has a staff of 30 people consisting of teachers, home visitors, case managers, mentors and coaches serving over 800 families a year.  These families are working toward greater independence and resilience.  The Sunrise staff are trained in family-centered, strength-based practices. Recently Sunrise became the second PCC in the state to have a hybrid position for the BBF coordinator.

For many years, Sunrise’s mission was Strengthening Families. The current mission statement is:  We connect families with community resources, provide educational experiences and build relationships that promote independence and resilience.  This envisions that all families in Bennington County have the strengths and resources to share in our community life.  Sunrise’s core values reflect these statements:

  • All families have unique strengths.
  • Families and providers learn together as partners.
  • Parents are the primary decision-makers for their families.
  • Hope makes change possible.

However, I think ‘strengthening families’ says everything about Sunrise and the services it supports for children and their families.

Sunrise is the fiscal agent for Children’s Integrated Services in Bennington County.  Bennington houses each of the discrete CIS services in partner agencies.  Sunrise employs the CIS Coordinator, the Specialized Childcare Coordinator and Family Support Home Visitors.  The CIS coordinator gets 75% of referrals directly from the community.  These referrals are discussed weekly at the intake and referral meeting. These team meetings ensure that children, pregnant women and families are getting appropriate services.  Currently the CIS resources are stretched, but the intake and referral team works hard to ensure that children receive what they need.

Some of the CIS children and their families have complex needs that go beyond typical CIS service delivery. There is a monthly consultation meeting to bring in outside partners to strategize the best ways to support a child and their family. Recently the CIS consultation team joined with the ACO’s (Accountable Care Organization) pediatric care team.  There are three ACO teams: the pediatric care team, the adult support team and a separate one for children between six and seventeen. The recent combining of CIS consultation team and the ACO pediatric care team is an exciting step. It puts the child and family in the center of planning and avoids duplicative meetings for community members.  In addition, it assists the community in learning about the array of services that can support a child and family.  Since early intervention, nursing, and children and family mental health services are located in different agencies, it is very important that the CIS coordinator stay in contact and support the partners.  Sunrise is leading the discussion on how to best serve families with the burgeoning number of referrals and complex needs, but without an increase in funding.

Sunrise has additional services that support young children and their families.  There is a 5 STAR NAEYC-accredited early care and education program serving children 6 weeks to age 3. Parents are encouraged to be involved in their children’s education.  The program uses the learning together model.  Many of the children in the program have parents in the state approved on-site high school program for pregnant and parenting teens.  As part of the Opportunities Program, parents spend time with their children in the childcare program.

The learning together model is used in most of the parent child centers across Vermont.  It offers a core curriculum, individualized instruction, and parenting and life skills.  It supports the young family on a path to a high school diploma and a better job.  To better support the students, Sunrise has a job club for everyone who is receiving Reach-Up Cash assistance.  The job club coordinator helps them with the skills that they need to seek and gain employment such as assessment of interests, barriers, resume and cover letter writing, and interviewing techniques.  It is another step toward becoming an independent adult.

Sunrise has other programs that support all children and their families, including:

  • Dads Create in partnership with the Vermont Arts Exchange, it is to fathers and their children in an open studio setting. It allows them to explore new materials and tools.
  • BCCCA offering parents assistance in finding child care and applying for child care tuition assistance
  • Playgroups open to all families

Sunrise supports older children and their families with intensive services through a contract with DCF Family Services, the Family Advocacy Program.  This program supports families who are at risk of losing their children or to support reunification.  The caseloads for this service are very small so that Sunrise can intensively support the family.

The services offered by a Parent Child Center are an important part of the array of services offered to children and families in this region.  Sunrise has had a long history of providing these services and a willingness to be part of the community dialogue.  When Bennington first wrote a regional plan, Sunrise was at the table along with other partners representing health, mental health, early care, education and home visiting.  Sunrise is a partner, a leader and important in ensuring that services are available to the region’s children and families.

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