With funding cuts to programs for young children such as Head Start, Crawford County Adult Education Center is offering an alternative in-home visitation program called Parents as Teachers.

Parents as Teachers is a free education and support program for parents with children 3-years-old and younger.

According to certified parent educators Vicki Anderson and Dawn Lane, the program is a great way for parents who need a little guidance to "fill in the gaps" when it comes to helping their kids meet developmental benchmarks.

Because of funding set aside in 2011 - Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting grants - that is administered by the Arkansas Department of Health, home visiting models such as PAT are able to offer more than just teaching developmental activities to the parents, Anderson said.

"Instead of just focusing on the child, we focus on the whole family," Lane said.

Lane recently went through training to be an educator with the program for the first time, but Anderson was a part of the program from 2007 to 2009, she said.

"I was excited when I went through the program again because it addresses some of the parenting problems that it didn’t before," Anderson said.

Some of those problems include parenting behaviors such as nurturing, responding and communicating with the child; developmental topics such as sleep, nutrition and discipline; and total family well-being such as parental resilience, social connections and support systems.

Educators make in-home visits twice a month to work on legislatively required benchmarks, which are geared toward helping the entire family. There are six benchmarks in total and include goals such as reduction in domestic violence and improvements in economic self-sufficiency.

To participate, families must apply for the program and meet at least two of the 21 listed requirements. They then receive a first assessment - called a "family map" - to start off, which takes into account private information such as social activities and daily routines, Lane said. This assessment is used to determine the family’s needs.

PAT educators work with the family, assisting in areas where it’s needed and encouraging parents in areas where they are doing well, Anderson said.

"When we go in the home we’re not looking for what’s not working; we’re taught to look for strengths and focus on that," she said.

Many who currently take advantage of the program are single or teen parents, Anderson said.

"One of my favorite aspects of the program is working with teen parents," Anderson said. "We talk about everything you can imagine teen parents would have trouble with - stress, scheduling, paying the bills. Basically we teach life skills."

Parent educators operate as part of the family’s support system, offering encouragement and assistance when needed. And they must be passionate about that work, Lane said.

"You have to have a love, not just for the children, but to help and serve," Lane said.

For more information, call (479) 471-0019.