FORT BELVOIR, Va. -- In addition to the myriad of child development centers and after-school events and programs, MWR's Child, Youth and School Services also offers in-home visits and one-on-one service to parents and their young children, by participating in the national program, Parents as Teachers.

Caprice Lewis and Sarah Bowen are each certified as parent-educators through Parents as Teachers, to assess the development of children from pre-natal stages up to when the child is 36 months old. In addition to 40 hours of instruction on the research-based program, Lewis and Bowen also constantly complete additional online courses.

During the usually monthly visits, they conduct screenings, including language, gross and fine motor skills, intelligence and personal/social aspects of a child's development.

"Parents usually stay in the program with their child through 36 months," Tammy DeBenedetto said. "And, they are sad when the program ends for them because of age restrictions."

DeBenedetto works as the Liaison, Education, Outreach Services Director at CYSS.

"Anyone who is eligible to use Child, Youth and School Services is eligible for the Parents as Teachers in-home visits," according to DeBenedetto.

Bowen said parents benefit from regular, periodic, in-home visits because of the information and activities the program provides. DeBenedetto said parents' interests are piqued about expectations of babies and toddlers at certain ages.

"Also, parents love to brag on their kids and do so when we come out by showing us what the child's doing that's new for their children - and for them, as parents," Lewis said.

During the visits, the educators, through observations and expectations, complete a milestone checklist for the child.

"We have time for questions and answers and we can detect any early red flags for developmental problems or concern there may be with the child," Bowen said. "We can advise parents to seek help or have further testing done on their child, largely to ease the parents' minds."

In terms of pre-natal observations, Lewis noted, "we know that children can start learning in a pre-natal environment. They have sight and hear their parents' voices. Sometimes, we can shine a flashlight on the mother-to-be's belly and the baby responds by kicking. This shows action and interaction," Lewis said.

Lewis and DeBenedetto both agreed that children who participate in the program are more ready when they start kindergarten or pre-school.

In addition to individual family visits, the program also offers open group visits. "The open meetings involve music, movement and a lot of activities. Additionally, they allow parents to get out and socialize with other parents," Bowen said.

However, the program's intent is to get families in one-on-one visits, according to DeBenedetto. Individual meetings, she said, are more personalized to the child's particular age and seem to be more honest, realistic and focused. "The whole process is a validation of people's parenting skills," she said.

"The visits show the strengths of the baby and the parents and encourages them," Lewis said.
Bowen said the military clients are unique because of moves from families, where there may be no extended family members close; and the stress of moves, deployments and possibly more-frequent job changes.

DeBenedetto said the Parents as Teachers visits are not a replacement for regular, well-baby doctor visits. "We hope to teach parents how to screen a child and observe that child's development to see if everyone's on the right track," she said.

Bowen, a mother of a 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son, has bachelor's and master's degrees in social work and a background in working with families and children and in foster care. "Children are why I went into social work," she said. "This program is ideal, for me, because I like to be out and about and I love to see participants' progress."

"What I enjoy most is the one-on-one time with families, interacting with them and seeing their children grow," Bowen said.

Lewis has a master's degree in school counseling, has taught special needs and pre-school children and worked as a parent educator in Annapolis, Md. She said, "I cherish my roll as support for all the families who are my clients. This is a unique environment with families with unique needs."

"I love the philosophy of Parents as Teachers and that it's research-based, and not based solely on opinions. I love seeing children learn and seeing parents interact with their children," Lewis said.

DeBenedetto said Parents as Teachers started at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., then piloted into 10 other DoD installations and then, last year, reached parents and their children at another 14 locations. "It most definitely has turned into a viable program throughout the nation and on Fort Belvoir," she said.

Information on the program is available by calling CYSS Central Registration, 805-9114, 9116 or 9118.