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Parents as Teachers program creates stronger families

posted in: Ministry, United States

Dad, mom, siblings and the young graduate--all celebrate when a family has successfully completed the program.
Dad, mom, siblings and the young graduate, all celebrate when a family has successfully completed the program.

A 2-year-old child’s emotions suddenly became out of control. A mom and her 11-year-old daughter were troubled by a past trauma. A new mother with postpartum depression struggled to get through each day. And a teenage girl pondered suicidal thoughts.

These are not the people and types of situations that the Parents As Teachers (PAT) program encounters daily, but they are not beyond the norm. In Utah, Holy Cross Ministries initiated the national Parents as Teachers program five years ago. The goal: to help parents of high-risk children ages 0–3 learn how to embrace their roles as their young one’s first and most influential teacher in life. The experiences a child has in these early years influence how the brain processes information. Those early experiences impact the child’s capacity for learning throughout life.

Toes might have been cold, but hearts were warm as "Santa" and her crew share drive-by holiday cheers with families in the Parents as Teachers program.
Toes might have been cold, but hearts were warm as “Santa” and her crew share drive-by holiday cheers with families in the Parents as Teachers program.

The program is supported in part by the Ministry With the Poor Fund. It employs two parent educators who serve the Salt Lake Valley region. Each makes twice monthly home visits (now online) to 20 Latinx families. But sometimes the parent educators encounter situations that are beyond their area of expertise. That’s when they turn to another resource within Holy Cross Ministries.

Counseling children and parents

Sister Verónica A. Fajardo, CSC, provides counseling to PAT families when a particular need is identified. Previously, she served at Peace House, a women’s shelter. There, she helped women who were victims of domestic abuse and sexual trauma.

“As parent educators, we are not therapists. Sister Verónica is,” said Lizeette Zurita, PAT program coordinator. “She is an amazing human being who creates a unique relationship with every client. More than half of our families are referred to her.”

A young PAT participant greets Santa.
A young PAT participant greets Santa.

“I journey with the families to healing,” Sister Verónica explained. “I find joy in helping families flourish and seeing their resilience grow. They are physically lighter, where before, there was a heaviness.”

Sister Verónica also conducts two support groups each week for PAT clients and others. The Monday group works on issues of shame and building resilience. The Wednesday group deals with handling stress and anxiety. She and Lizeette also hold mental health webinars, which help combat the stigma of mental health in the Latinx community.

“Conversations on mental health are becoming more normalized,” Lizeette observed.

Educator Yuri Jenson counsels a family via a video call.
Educator Yuri Jenson counsels a family via a video call.

Trajectory for success

Sister Verónica shepherded the mom and daughter who experienced a trauma, the postpartum mother suffering depression, and the suicidal teen along the path toward healing. She also helped set the 2-year-old on a new trajectory for success. In addition to out-of-control emotions, the child had been backtracking on milestones.

“A month after Sister Verónica began working with the child, we noticed a huge difference,” said Lizeette. “Emotions were more under control and the child is sleeping through the night.”

The value of Sister Verónica’s role in this program is immeasurable. She is both bilingual and bicultural, a factor that is crucial to the success of this ministry and one that is too rare in the community. After working with Sister Verónica, families are no longer afraid to talk about uncomfortable issues. Hers is a healing voice.

“Where would we be without her?” Lizeette asked. “She is a trust entity in the community who is just a phone call away, a smile away, a heart away.”

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This story also appeared in inSpirit magazine. To receive the magazine or the Annual Giving Report, use the button below and fill out our online request form. You can also sign up to receive the online newsletter from the Congregation’s Development Office.