Featured image (above): The toy room with a large selection of age and activity appropriate toys. (RiverReader photo/Michael Miller)
BY MICHAEL MILLER
Some of the brightest jewels are the ones that are hidden; Right Steps Family Center Director Darcie Feltmeyer wants the public to be aware of one such jewel right here in Carroll County and the benefits that group provides to the West Carroll School District, parents, children and the community in general.
Funded by the Illinois State Board of Education, The Right Steps Family Center has a new home in Carroll County, with three recently refurbished offices (thanks to some extra grant funds State Initiative Grant from ISBE) in the basement of the West Carroll District Office in Mt. Carroll.
The Center provides free services to Carroll County parents of young children, ages birth to three years of age, and also to expectant mothers. They offer information, support and activities for qualifying families to help each child’s individual development process and also to educate their parents. Through observation and screening, the group can also identify any issues the child might be having and refer them to helpful resources.
The Center currently employs three Parent Educators who will make home visits at a comfortable time and place, sharing information specific to each family’s individual needs. This information includes facts about an infant’s brain development. The group also provides group connection and play groups, as well as developmental screenings. Participating families are connected to area resources, and caring educators help set and achieve family goals.
According to the Right Steps pamphlet, children enrolled in the program possess better speaking listening, social and thinking skills, are readier for kindergarten, and score better on tests in the early grades; and their parents are more likely to take part of their education, are more confident as parents, and read more to their children.
The state currently requires the program employ three such educators and all must have a college degree. All three must also go for certification training.
The group also lends toys and books from a large collection lending library, and links participating children to preschool at age 3. These libraries were expanded thanks to the ISBE grant.
Qualification is determined by a point system calculated through interviews, and there is weighted eligibility. Teen mothers tend to qualify as they are seen as high risk for issues, and while income definitely plays a factor in eligibility, special needs children are also factored in, aside from income.
First time parents and socially isolated parents have a good chance of getting in, Feltmeyer explains.
“We’ve been fortunate that most of our families we have accepted because they’ve had enough risk factors … that we could help them,” she says.
Participation in, and awareness of, the program is growing. While the initial two parent educators each had twelve families apiece, now three educators have eighteen families each, on a county wide basis.
When the participating child turns three, he/she automatically transitions to the Early Step (preschool) program. Early Step programs are in Eastland, Chadwick/Milledgeville and West Carroll.
“We keep them until they are three and if they don’t have a place in Pre-K we can keep them for that year,” Smith explains.
Parent educators meet twice a month with most parents, usually an hour visit.
Response has been very good and exit rate is very low, Smith adds.
Feltmeyer says they have hopes to do a “mass screening” event for birth to three children in Carroll County, just as there is currently such an event for preschool aged children.
Right Steps has retained a mental health consultant as a condition of the grant. Feltmeyer says the consultant is very valuable to the Parent Educators, and is very knowledgeable in the psychology of birth to three and preschool children. She meets twice a month with the Parent Educators and is scheduled to talk about grief at the Center.
Feltmeyer hopes the upcoming open house will go further toward this end. Scheduled for December 17th, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., the event will be attended by Savanna Mayor Chris Lain, while other county mayors are being reached out to for attendance. Representative Tony McCombie, whom Smith said has been very helpful and wishes the group well, was invited but will be unable to attend.
“We want the word out because I don’t Carroll County knows the gem that they have in this program….it really helps a lot of young families,” Feltmeyer adds.
RENOVATION AND UPGRADES
The kitchen area has been redone with all new appliances. The adjoining room, which includes a reading nook, is used by the Center group connections and family classes with parents. Supervisor Roberta Smith says that last week the room housed one such connection (Literacy Night) of twelve families, with the families reading books and making their own book to take home.
The Center has also purchased a shed (yet to arrive) to help house toys.
The supervisor’s office was also upgraded, setting up a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere for visits by parents, and creating a calm work environment for Smith to do the intensive amount of paperwork required.
All the new equipment for the offices were purchased through local businesses, Feltmeyer says.
“A WONDERFUL PARTNERSHIP” WITH WEST CARROLL
The ISBE grant requires an administrative agent; in this case, the West Carroll school district is the administrative agent for the State Initiative Grant. “They oversee everything,” Feltmeyer says. “We work closely with West Carroll.”
“We appreciate Julie and the board allowing us to do this because I think it’s a win/win for everybody,” Feltmeyer says.
“It’s nice to be able to assist our families from Day One,” says West Carroll District Superintendent Julie Katzenberger, later adding, “it’s been a wonderful partnership.”
The Center and its employees can be reached at phone number 815-273-7750 or 815-273-7532 (Message phone) plus 03 for Supervisor Roberta Smith, fax number 815-273-3846.