Education and Child Care Initiatives for Young COAs

By Catherine Herzog

Many of our high risk young children depend solely upon our educational and child care systems to notice that they are in distress and come to their aid. Even these dedicated staff and community members are often not sufficiently trained to recognize the suffering and the sense of loss endured each day by the children in front of them.

Most young children lack a context for comparison and conclude that "this is how it is in everybody's house" so they are loath to protest or seek help outside the family. Since the emotional and physical dependency of young children on their parents is central to their very existence, it is hard for them to challenge or question these powerful sources and targets of love. Instead, they challenge themselves to make whatever adjustment or compromise is necessary to maintain as good a relationship with their parents as possible. Because of a sense of loyalty, shame, or fear of reprisal, many of them do not want us to know how confused and worried they become as they realize that their compromises do not work. Their efforts to adjust to their circumstances rob them of their right to safe and normal development.

Even when there is awareness by adults that a child is in distress, a type of inertia sets in that is created by a lack of skills to address the problem and a fear of reprisal from parents. Each year we see many of our young children come to our schools and child care settings with the signs of abuse, neglect and hopelessness that living in a substance abusing family can cause. And each year we witness young children come to life, acquire new skills and knowledge, build healthy relationships, and journey down the path of hope created for them by caring members of the education and child care communities.

But there are too few who have this opportunity. Too few adults are equipped and ready to open their eyes to the reality of these little ones. We must, therefore, create that "equipment" and put it in the hands of those who are in a position to help young children. We must provide them with the support they need to be effective.

That is why NACoA has embarked upon the current initiative in the education and child care systems. We believe that those systems are in an optimal position to harness the energy and talent of dedicated people who, if properly trained, could make a significant difference in the quality of life of our high risk children.

The initiative has three objectives:

• Create effective training tools and curricula.

• Implement training in order to increase the probability that staff and other caring adults will intervene on behalf of children.

• Link with local resources to fully and properly intervene on behalf of children.

The outcomes we seek are simple. We intend to:

• Create the conditions to insure that adults will intervene effectively on behalf of high risk young children in order to:

• Decrease child distress and improve each child's opportunity for maximum development.

Clearly, no organization can expect to be successful in such a venture on its own. Rather, NACoA will serve as a catalyst which will create synergy among many systems willing to align their attention, time and resources behind these outcomes. Indeed, the implementation of this training on a national scale will require us to recruit a critical mass of national and local leadership of professional, parent and community organizations.

Our children deserve our best.

Catherine L. Herzog, Ph.D., is Director of Instructional Services and Early Childhood Education in the Waterford School District, Waterford, Michigan. Dr. Herzog is chair of NACoA's Education Initiative.