A: Bright Futures for Early Childhood and Families is dedicated to providing leadership, innovation, influence and resources to ensure that Ouray, San Miguel, Delta and Montrose Counties have quality early childhood care, education, health, mental health and family services. We provide a resource and referral service for families looking for quality childcare and resources on early care education, health, mental health and family services in our region. We provide a Parents as Teachers program to qualified families, which includes at-home tutoring sessions for children age birth to five and their parents.
Q: How did BF get its start?
A: Bright Futures got its start as one of Colorado’s first Early Childhood pilots to support families with children age birth to five. It was originally part of the Telluride Foundation and became its own non-profit organization in 2005. Now, Bright Futures is one of 30 Early Childhood Councils in the state.
Q: How do you go about providing our communities with such a vast array of services?
A: We have four areas of programming that we focus on: Education & Quality Care; Family Support & Parent Education; Health; and Social/Emotional Mental Health. Our goal is to create optimal developmental outcomes for young children by fully developing each of these areas and making sure that the programs and services in all four areas connect and support one another. Organizations representing the four areas collaborate to find ways to make the overall system work better for children and their families.
Q: Tell us about each of these four areas and a few things they offer.
A: Education & Quality Care: Through quality improvement grants and scholarship assistance, Bright Futures is helping increase the level of quality in childcare facilities across the counties. Grant funds are used for items such as curriculums, educational materials, safety measures and professional development. Over 100 hours of training is also available for professionals working with infants and toddlers, children with special needs, and to promote strong social and emotional skills. These efforts are grounded in research, which tells us that professionals who have formal early childhood training are more likely to have the knowledge and skills to consistently create high quality learning environments for children, facilitate active learning, and develop supportive relationships for children and families. By educating just one childcare professional, we are educating at least 50 young children.
Family Support / Parent Education: We strongly believe that the education of young children begins at home. Bright Futures has offered parent specific trainings such as Nutrition, Stranger Danger, Challenging Behaviors, Managing Stress, Transitions, and Raising Polite Children, where over 250 families have benefited.
Bright Futures runs a “Parents as Teachers” Program in Ouray, San Miguel and West Montrose counties. Parents are educated about early childhood, focusing on their child’s intellectual, social-emotional, motor and language development. “Our Parent Educator noticed our son’s speech delay,” commented one family. “Because of this early identification through the Parents as Teachers program, we were able to correct it by his 4th birthday.”
Bright Futures has provided each local library “activity bags” for families to check out and take home with their children. Each bag contains educational materials and activity guides focusing on different subject matters such as Shapes and Color, Weather, Transportation, Nature, Dinosaurs, Family Game Night, and Music. The bags were created by University Centers of the San Miguel early childhood students under the guidance of instructor Mary Alice Wagner. According to Wagner, the bags provide a wonderful opportunity for families to engage with their children at home. In addition to the supplies, each bag comes with a guided set of instructions which coincide with the Colorado State Standards for preschools.”
Health: Bright Futures has been working with physicians across the four counties, encouraging them to use a standardized developmental screening tool called Ages and Stages Questionnaire. The diagnostic tool has been adopted for use during well-child checks by 35 physicians, nearly 100 percent of all physicians who see young children in the region. Dr. Janet Grant of Delta Pediatrics says they love the participation it provides for the parent because they evaluate their own child and are able to be involved in the child’s well-child check. The tool helps them meet their milestones.
Early identification is important so that delays can be addressed early and hopefully corrected by the time the child enters kindergarten. Through a partnership with Child Find in each school district, a strong referral system has been developed and is being utilized by physicians in each community.
Bright Futures has navigators in each county who provide a personal assistance to families and help them acquire health insurance from Medicaid or CHP+. Health care navigator Ruben Melgoza, working in Montrose and Delta Counties, recently provided personal assistance to a Spanish speaking family with no health insurance for their newborn baby, after receiving a phone call from Montrose Pediatrics Associates. As a bi-lingual speaker, he was successful in understanding their needs and accompanied the family to the courthouse where they obtained a birth certificate and subsequently enrolled the baby in Medicaid.
Helping families access healthcare and monitor their children’s health from birth are just a couple ways Bright Futures is making a difference in early childhood development in San Miguel, Ouray, Montrose and Delta Counties. The Bright Futures Regional Council also provides health forums for childcare professionals, parents and health care providers to learn more about screening tools, immunizations and health insurance.
Social / Emotional Mental Health: Through 90 hours of the Pyramid Model Training offered by Bright Futures, 185 parents and 155 preschool teachers have improved their effectiveness as parents and teachers for children with challenging behaviors. The focus of the Pyramid Model is to learn how to minimize challenging behaviors and promote socialization. Students learn how to rearrange their classrooms or homes and how to interact with children to promote a more harmonious atmosphere. Teachers integrate special education children in challenging activities that promote self-confidence, and they structure playground activities to teach problem solving and anger control.
We have two mental health consultants who provide visits to various childcare centers and offer trainings for childcare professionals. Together they have directly impacted over 400 children in childcare centers, helping integrate special needs children in the regular classroom.
Finally, in addition to the Ages and Stages Questionnaire, some physicians are also using the Ages and Stages Social Emotional Questionnaire, which will help identify social emotional delays in young children. Once a child is referred for services, the appropriate Service Plan Team meets with the family to determine needed services, desired outcomes and strategies for success.
Studies prove that Early Identification is important not only because issues are easier to correct at an early age, but by correcting issues early, society saves money later on the cost of special education services, health care, incarceration, and welfare.
Q: What does BF offer to licensed childcare providers in the area or someone who might be interested in becoming a childcare provider?
A: We have access to coaching stipends for education, grants for quality materials and curriculum and coaching for obtaining a Qualistar Rating for their home or center-based early learning program.
Q: Explain the Qualistar Rating and why it is so important for a parent to be educated on it and look for childcare with this rating.
A: The Qualistar Rating system was developed by 150 childcare experts and measures quality in licensed early learning programs, both home and center-based, who serve children birth to kindergarten. Trained observers spend several hours in each classroom collecting information on five different quality components which encompass the learning environment, family partnership, training and education, adult-to-child ratio and accreditation.
I highly encourage parents to visit www.qualistar.org and view their child’s early learning program. They can see the programs overall rating score as well as the details of each of the five quality component areas. This is valuable information to have whether you are just beginning the search for childcare or already have your child attending.
Q: Can a parent contact BF directly or do you need to have a referral from a physician?
A: Parents and providers can call Bright Futures directly for all of our services; no referrals are needed. We welcome anyone to contact us regarding our services.
Q: Where does BF obtain its funding?
A: We generously receive support from the Colorado Department of Education, numerous local and statewide foundations, the Town of Mountain Village, CCAASE, San Miguel and Ouray Counties, Qualistar, and Telluride Foundation.
More info on Bright Futures is available at their website: www.brightfuturesforchildren.org.
— Compiled by Cynthia Sommers. Email your Ask An Expert questions or suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.