FAIRMONT - The ages zero to 5 are a crucial time for a child's development, in every aspect.
Cognitive skills, along with emotional and social development flourish along with physical development. But abuse or neglect can cause a child to flounder instead.
"Child abuse, neglect and maltreatment are [some] of the most important things that we can work on," says Fairmont Police Chief Greg Brolsma. "There are challenges before us, we're seeing more single-parent families. We recently reviewed three adults who reported they were not satisfied with the services from the police. We found that the three of them combined had 530 involvements with the police. So some of these families are having a rougher, tougher start, and we either provide the support and services early, or we deal with it in problems that come out later."
To help each child get the best start possible, Human Services and the local Early Childhood Initiative have offered in-home visits to local families with young children.
"We all have a role as adults with prevention, where children are valued," says Margo Weaver of Human Services. "Families face a lot of challenges today, with the economy, education or a lack thereof. The Healthy Families supporter program provides information on child development and parenting as a community resource."
The Human Services program began in Faribault and Martin counties in 1993. Most contacts with families start when a baby is born.
"In terms of child abuse prevention, we're counseling and helping parents before there are problems," Weaver said. "Our approach is building on strengths. It's not a punitive approach; we're not targeting 'abusers,' just adults with kids and how can we help serve them."
Facts and information on normal child development are used to see if the children are hitting important developmental milestones.
"The development of the brain is so important at that stage, and neglect and abuse has a toxic effect," Weaver said. "We want to build so each child has the best potential ... Instead of waiting for something to go wrong, this takes a proactive approach; we're providing things that can decrease the negative, a way to make a difference in the community."
Another point is realizing that parents from all walks of life have difficulty in their parenting roles.
"Parenting is one of the most difficult jobs, a lot of people don't know just what they're signed up for," Weaver said. "It's frustrating when you have a child and don't know what they'll do."
Another in-home visitation program runs through the Early Childhood Initiative, which began in 2006 through the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation.
"It picks up where Healthy Families leaves off, and it's a key part of a community awareness venture," said Roni Dauer of the Early Childhood Initiative. "It's voluntary, supportive, and usually families are suggested by organizations. The visitors are trained; they have modeled activities for the children to do on visits, and it's helping parents connect with appropriate services they may need."
Recommendations for home visits sometimes come from ECFE and ECSE teachers, through preschool screenings, or via Human Services. Referrals are only made with the parent's approval.
"It's meant to be a positive, it's helping promote school readiness, and making sure there is a successful start for school and helping kids enjoy learning for lifelong."
"Really, it's all about learning from each other, all people we can learn from each other," Brolsma said. "These programs get adults to learn from each other, no matter where they may be at in the community."
It's still too early to tell how well the programs are working.
"We won't be able to tell for years down the road, but we'll be able to see it with businesses having good employees and having functional families," Weaver said.
"All of us are role models in some way," Brolsma said. "How can the long-term effect be measured? There is evidence-based concrete research from organizations with money and the methods to research that show these early childhood interventions are working. We need more research, but it costs money, and in smaller communities, we don't have that. But we're seeing that difference when we do the asset-based research. We care about kids and in this small community; we can get to know them.
"From 2001-1010, we did see a drop in the crime rate, and it beats the demographics, and we're all trying to figure out what made the difference. Was it the prevention or interventions? I personally believe it's a piece of it."