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Despite funding cuts, St. Louis-based Parents as Teachers helps prepare families to educate children

Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

The St. Louis-based non-profit Parents as Teachers is a local organization that makes a national impact by helping prepare parents to be a child’s first teacher from pregnancy up to kindergarten. We’ve recently discussed the importance of access to early childhood education and a question about the organization came up repeatedly.

We thought we’d check in with the organization to see what it is up to these days—nationally and locally. On Monday’s “St. Louis on the Air,” two guests joined the show:

  • Scott Hippert, President and CEO of Parents as Teachers
  • Donna Hunt O’Brien, Director, Training, Curriculum, and Program Innovations with Parents as Teachers

Parents as Teachers uses an approach that incorporates home visits by “parent educators,” health/developmental screenings, support groups and connections to community resources. The group was founded 30 years ago in the Ferguson-Florissant School District and has expanded to 50 states and 6 other countries. Over 194,000 children receive help from the organization each year. 
In Missouri, Parents as Teachers is connected to parents through their school districts and the organization operates in every school district in the state. Trained parent educators work with parents to learn parenting skills—even if they weren’t exposed to good parenting themselves as a child. The attachment of children to a primary care provider is the most important goal to achieve, said O’Brien.

“Without a strong attachment, the brain isn’t ready to receive all the learning,” O’Brien continued.
“That’s the basis that has got to be there and that’s through positive parent-child or caregiver-child interactions.”

Although the organization has expanded since it was founded in 1984, it has seen significant cuts in funding in the past years.

“In Missouri, we took a significant cut not too long ago but what I’m really excited about at the grassroots levels, at the program level, our districts and other organizations are starting to really gain strength and figure out how to fund programs in a sustainable way,” O’Brien said. “Many organizations are looking at diversifying their funding. It also requires leaders in these districts to advocate and move forward the very important work of parent education.”

Hippert said that the organization had achieved modest gains in making up for funding lost from the state from 2009—bringing the reduction in funding from 60 to 50 percent.

“Clearly, school districts are having trouble funding parents as teachers as staff,” Hippert said. “We need to get state funding back to some reasonable level so that school districts can afford to provide these services to high-needs families.”

"St. Louis on the Air" discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter and join the conversation at @STLonAir.

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.