Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

First-Time Moms to Get Help from Head Start

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

First-Time Moms to Get Help from Head Start

Article excerpt

Helping low-income people bridge class division has long been the goal of Head Start, the federally funded preschool program that aims to take 3- and 4-year old children born in poverty and deliver them to kindergarten, ready to learn.

But who's been teaching the parents?

Passaic County Head Start on Tuesday unveiled a new program designed to teach parents -- particularly first-time mothers -- how to raise their infants so the child enjoys the same kind of nurturing environment commonly found in more affluent homes.

The three-year program, called Parents as Teachers, is getting under way in 13 counties in New Jersey that received grants from the federal government. Bergen County also is running a program and is looking for mothers of newborns and expectant mothers to participate.

Passaic County Head Start held a forum at the Reid Memorial Library on Tuesday attended by social workers, non-profit groups and health-care providers. Using a $195,000 federal grant, Passaic County hopes to enroll 60 families in the pilot program, which grew out of a recommendation made by President Obama in his 2010 State of the Union address.

The program's goal "is to make you the best parent that you can be," said Lillian Ramos, the executive director of Passaic County Head Start. "We will be there to explain to mothers both what is going on with your body and what is going on with your baby."

First-time mothers who live in poverty often don't deliver healthy babies, owing to poor nutrition, stress and lifestyle choices, like drug and alcohol use, during pregnancy. Things don't get any easier once the child is born.

"Parents are not going be very successful if there is not enough food, if there are no jobs, of if there is domestic violence," said Dr. Behnaz Pakizegl, a professor of child and family development at William Paterson University, which is helping Passaic County Head Start coordinate its program. A child who isn't nurtured properly will begin to display antisocial behavior as early as 9 months old, she said.

"There is ample research to show that children begin learning even before they are born," she said. …

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