Hearts and Home

Despite the busy schedule, Claudia made sure they continued with lessons for Dante and Caroline during Chantel’s home visits.

Step into Claudia’s living room and you’re immediately surrounded by the smiles of her young children. They’re excited because one of their favorite weekly guests has arrived – Chantel, a home visitor from our Early Head Start program at Westside Children’s Center. Chantel plops down her bag full of toys and lessons and enthusiastically greets each child.

As Claudia proudly introduces her three youngest – Henry (4), Dante (3) and her princess, Caroline (2), Chantel pulls coloring paper from her bag. Subtly, the day’s lessons have begun. Claudia’s older two sons, Oscar and Kevin, whom she affectionately refers to as the men of the household, are in school and the focus is 100% on the little ones. When asked about the program, their mother explains, “It’s very good. They learn a lot. They’ve learned how to share, how to recognize objects and pronounce them correctly. I like that they’ve learned picture recognition and new words. And I love the fact that even the smallest things will eventually help them when they transition into school.”

Consisting of weekly hour-and-a-halflong visits, the Early Head Start Home Visitor Program integrates developmentally appropriate learning activities into children’s daily lives, while encouraging active parent involvement. Home visitors, such as Chantel, also help parents keep track of doctor appointments, make healthy nutrition choices, and monitor the children’s development. Over a year ago, when Claudia applied for the program on the referral of a friend, she says she wasn’t sure what to expect. Chantel was assigned the family and says as she began working with them, she noticed Claudia’s visibly growing belly. Eventually, Claudia revealed she was pregnant. Fortunately, the home visitor program specializes in helping both mothers of young children and mothers-to-be with parenting skills, and access to prenatal care.

As the pregnancy progressed, Chantel helped Claudia navigate the necessary appointments. Early on, tests revealed the baby may be born with some medical issues. Chantel helped the family prepare to deal with whatever these may be. In late December, baby Angel was born prematurely with a lesion on his skull and indeterminate chromosome issues.

The doctor visits and hospital stays increased as the family worked with specialists and surgeons. Referred to as a “failure to thrive” baby, Angel had difficulty absorbing nutrients and kept losing weight. The doctors recommended a feeding tube, but Claudia worked hard to feed him. Spending sometimes up to three hours per feeding, she managed to get him to eat and grow without resorting to an invasive feeding tube.

Despite the busy schedule, Claudia made sure they continued with lessons for Dante and Caroline during Chantel’s home visits.

As the doctor appointments progressed, Chantel helped Claudia learn how to become more confident when speaking with the doctors. In the course of only a few months, she went from being timid about speaking up, to learning how ask the right questions and how to be a powerful advocate for her child’s health.

Tragically in April, at the age of four months, little Angel passed away. Chantel remembers the phone call clearly. “When it happened, I just had to go out there. Not to help her…but just to see how I could support her.” Chantel’s role shifted a bit during this challenging time. “Yes, my focus is on the children and ensuring their parents’ understanding of child development, but I can’t do my job if mom is not able to address her needs. We had to help her cope and get all the support and services she needed, including grief support. We need her to be in a good mental and physical state so she is able to provide for her children.”

As Claudia talks about the Early Head Start program, it’s evident that she greatly appreciated the support. “I never expected that they’d be the ones who helped me most during my time of great need and that Westside Children’s Center would be such support during the loss of my baby. I’m so thankful for Chantel and the Home Visitor Program, because I know I have the emotional support and resources needed to succeed as a family. It was way more than I anticipated.”

As Henry, Dante and Caroline continue to play, Claudia muses on what she’s learned from the Home Visitor Program. “When they want to paint and draw, I don’t just hand them paper. I’ve learned to actually sit with them and spend time doing the activity with them. I’ve learned how to talk with them so they don’t fight as much…and I’ve learned how to sing!”