This concept is the basis of the BICC Starfish Program, and empowering parents to create the best start in life for their child is one of its primary goals.
The mission is to provide caring and complete parent education in the home so that parents can maximize their child’s success during these years and for the future.
Bradley Initiative for Church and Community launched Starfish in 2009. This was in response to an expressed need through their community listening process to strengthen families in Cleveland and Bradley County.
“Starfish is a child-centered program with a parent focus,” Starfish Director Corinne Freeman said. “Building the capacity of parents directly impacts the community through the changes they make to support their children’s future.”
Starfish focuses on helping the parents of young children strengthen their families by beginning at a very early age. Enrollment is open to families with children ages prenatal to 36 months. The families can continue with the program until the enrolled child enters kindergarten.
Making a positive difference for each child that enters the program is important to Starfish.
“We strive to provide the highest quality program using research-proven information to support parents in their unique and valuable journey,” Freeman said.
Starfish is a Parents as Teachers (PAT) affiliate. The PAT curriculum used by Starfish is an evidence-based strengths model for encouraging the best environment for early development. A critical factor to being an effective program is that the model is culturally sensitive toward family interaction and teaching styles.
Starfish offers families personal in-home visits, monthly Group Connection meetings, annual early childhood screenings and a resource referral network.
In 2012, Starfish staff made 741 home visits with children, plus 64 visits with expectant parents. Some of the benefits gained by children in the program include higher scores on kindergarten readiness and reading tests, advancement in language and social development and stronger problem solving abilities. Additionally, the annual screenings in development, hearing, vision and health make it possible for delays to be identified earlier and address prior to entering kindergarten.
Starfish also connects the parents with other community resources to address the children’s developmental delays, giving them a stronger chance to make substantial progress toward a successful future.
A current Starfish family includes Ray and Tiffany and their sons Cayden and Hunter.
Tiffany heard about Starfish through the breast-feeding support group at Life Circle when she was expecting her second son, Cayden. Tiffany enrolled in August of 2011, one month before Cayden was born. Jennifer Ratcliff became her Starfish Parent Educator and began regular monthly visits.
“We really like Starfish,” Tiffany said.
Tiffany said Cayden looks forward to Jennifer’s visits.
“He looks in her bag to see what activities she’s brought for him to do,” Tiffany said. “The different activities that Jennifer brings let me know what he should be doing at his age range, like shapes and colors.”
She explained that Cayden has been ahead for his age and has already been able to do the activities for the next developmental age range. Cayden, who just turned two, is working with activities at the 36 month age range.
“I wouldn’t have known that was something he should be doing,” Tiffany said.
She credits Starfish with Cayden’s progress, and the monthly visits help encourage her to include the activities into his daily play time.
“We really look forward to her coming,” Tiffany said. “We keep the all home visit appointments, go to all the Group Connection meetings and try to make all the play dates. Cayden didn’t like the Group Connections at first, but now he really enjoys them. Up ‘til then, he had only been around kids his brother’s age. Now, he enjoys playing with other kids his age, and he’s getting better at it.”
Hunter also participates in the Group Connection activities and learns activities to do together with his little brother.
Tiffany, now expecting her third child, is thankful that she is able to text the Starfish staff with questions about everything from diaper rash to teething problems. She is comfortable knowing that her parent educator will not judge her or laugh at her when she asks a question. She said this relationship with her parent educator makes working with Starfish easy and more meaningful than just being handed a packet of information.
“It gives me ideals to look up to,” Tiffany said of the program.
The first year, the family was experiencing some problems, said Tiffany. She explained that her older son, Hunter, needed a jacket, and Jennifer connected them with a resource to fill the need and also with United Way that provided a turkey for their Thanksgiving Dinner. In addition, through the resource referrals provided by Starfish, Tiffany signed up with a Christmas program through a church that provided Christmas presents for her children.
This family’s story is one example of how Starfish continues to make a positive impact in many families in our community. All of the services offered through Starfish are provided at no cost to the enrolled families.
Brenda Hughes, BICC executive director, expressed deep appreciation to the Bradley Memorial Health Endowment Fund distributed through the United Way of Cleveland. The generous support through the past five years has laid the strong foundation for Starfish’s long-term success in our community.
The BICC Starfish Program will soon begin its sixth year of providing these valuable services that help to strengthen the families in our community.
Hughes said BICC’s vision is to provide “an environment where individuals within families will identify and fulfill the role of providing physical, emotional and spiritual support to its members, thus becoming a thriving unit that contributes to a strong community.”
“Starfish is one of four core programs of BICC that works toward this vision,” she said.
Other programs include the Transitions program, a family strengthening program for families with children 10-14; Inspiring Tomorrow’s Leaders Today, a youth leadership program for middle and high school youth; and Bridging the Gap, a mentoring program that matches caring adults with youth ages 6 to 16.
For more information on Starfish and other programs of BICC, visit www.bicc-inc.org.