Leading The Way Profile

Rhea Pierre Gates


Rhea Pierre Gates-Early Foundations Home Visiting Program Manager

What is home visiting?

Home Visiting with families and children is new to Montana but has been a standard in some states for decades. It involves a home visitor working with a family on issues related to maternal and child health, positive parenting practices, safe home environments, and access to other services. Ideally, the home visitor starts working with a family either before a child is born or as soon as they come home from the hospital. Although this is not always possible and the home visitor will make appropriate adjustments, assisting children between 0-5. All services are voluntary and take place in the home or at another location chosen by the parents. Various tested and research based curriculums are utilized as part of the home visiting movement. Locally, the Parents As Teachers Model was chosen for implementation. The PAT Model has lessons and support tools that the home visitor can use when in the home. With the curriculum, parents learn practices and activities to help them in their role. Within the delivery of home visits, families gain knowledge about creating a safe home environment, safe sleep practices, and screenings for early child development.

The home visitor connects families to other services, mentors them as they consider employment and educational options, assists them in navigating the health care system, and share information so caregivers better informed about the need for well child visits and maternal post-partum. Different methods and tools they use in the home focus on the various stages of child development, with practical hands-on activities the parent will be able to introduce to their child. Home visiting as a societal program views child and family development from a holistic perspective that encompasses child health and well-being, child development and school readiness, positive parent-child relationships, parent health and well-being, family economic self-sufficiency, and family functioning. A two-generation approach with a lengthy history, being used by families in some form around the globe for centuries, home visiting delivers both parent- and child-oriented services to help the whole family thrive.

Research shows that voluntary home visiting programs help improve infant and maternal health, develop safe homes and nurturing relationships to prevent child abuse and injury or mortality, support early learning and long-term academic achievement, and make referrals and coordinate services. By meeting families where they are, home visiting programs have demonstrated short- and long-term impacts on the health, safety, and school-readiness of children; maternal health; and family stability and financial security. Home visitors meet with families in their home and provide culturally competent, individualized needs assessments and services.

Results from the use of home visiting have had measured improvements in the following outcomes:

Healthy Babies

Home visitors work with expectant mothers to access prenatal care and engage in healthy behaviors during and after pregnancy.

For example— · Pregnant participants are more likely to access prenatal care and carry their babies to term.

· Home visiting promotes infant caregiving practices like breastfeeding, which has been associated with positive long-term outcomes related to cognitive development and child health.

Safe Homes and Nurturing Relationships

Home visitors provide caregivers with knowledge and training to reduce the risk of unintended injuries.

For example—

· Home visitors teach caregivers how to “baby proof” their home to prevent accidents that can lead to emergency room visits, disabilities, or even death. · They also teach caregivers how to engage with children in positive, nurturing ways, thus reducing child maltreatment.

Optimal Early Learning and Long-Term Academic Achievement

Home visitors offer caregivers timely information about child development and the importance of early childhood in establishing the building blocks for life.

For example—

· They help caregivers recognize the value of reading and other activities for early learning. This guidance translates to improvements in children’s early language and cognitive development, as well as academic achievements in grades 1 through 3.

Supported Families

Home visitors make referrals and coordinate services for children and caregivers, including job training and education programs, early care and education services, and— if needed—mental health and domestic violence resources.

Research shows that—

· Compared with their counterparts, caregivers enrolled in home visiting have higher monthly incomes, are more likely to be enrolled in school, and are more likely to be employed.

Recognizing the value of home visiting and the powerful outcomes it demonstrated with families, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services implemented a number of programs to support the development of services across the United States. One of those was the Maternal Infant Early Childhood Home Visiting Program. Under this initiative, more communities have been able to experience home visiting. Known as MIECHV, this program has supported the Early Foundations Home Visiting Program for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes for a decade. The Lake County Health Department also has a home visiting program.

For more information on home visiting go to: https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/preventing/prevention-programs/homevisit or https://nhvrc.org. To find out about the Parents As Teachers Model go to: https://parentsasteachers.org

Get To Know Rhea

Tell us a little bit about your background…

Hello! My name is Rhea Pierre Gates. I am a mother to 4 wonderful young men aged 29, 28, 22, 19 and one sassy, beautiful step-daughter aged 10. I am a gramma to two sweet little boys named Micah (2 ½) and Harrison (6 months). I live in St. Ignatius with my husband, stepdaughter, and my youngest son, as well as our Pittie, our Bulldog, our Chihuahua, and our cat. I grew up in Montana, Idaho, and Oregon. I moved back home

to the reservation in 1997. That is when I started my 19 year career at Early Childhood Services. For the past 6 years, I have been the Program Manager for the Early Foundations Home Visiting Program with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. I went to Salish Kootenai College for my Associates Degree and for my Bachelor’s in Early Childhood Education. I am currently enrolled in the Master of Education Program at the University of Montana. When I am not at work or doing schoolwork, I enjoy spending time with my husband, my children, and my grandboys. I also enjoy reading and singing karaoke.

Describe the work you do with families and children…

I work for the Early Foundations Home Visiting Program which is funded through the Administration for Children and Families. Our program has been serving families here on the reservation for 10 years. We work with prenatal mothers and families of children up to five years old. In many cases, the home visitor is able to meet with both parents. For the delivery of home visits, the staff uses a curriculum called Parents As Teachers. The curriculum has been tested and used since the 1970’s. PAT has lessons that guide parents through activities that support their children’s growth and development. We also provide developmental screens, social emotional screenings, and other screens for the family. Another important service is referrals. Home visitors give referrals as needed for the children and families. For parents it can be scary to go to a new provider or take a child for a screening. Home visitors give the parent guidance and emotional support through these times. The goal is to help each caregiver learn new concepts, build up their skills, and gain confidence in their parenting. Most home visitors meet once a week with a family or a couple of times a month.

What do you think people misunderstand about the work being done with children aged 0-5?

That the work we do with children at this age is important. This is a crucial learning period in young children’s lives. When I was in the classroom, parents would say….”I asked little Becky what she did today, and she said she ate and played.” I would then explain that children can learn so much through play. Our classroom was scheduled with structured activities and play time. Children can also learn so much through mealtimes, such as engaging in back and forth conversations. So, my point is, children can learn throughout the day, by everyday activities, it does not have be a sit down structured activity. Interaction with peers teaches a child so much and is one of the best ways for them to be prepared for the future.

How would you describe the most important work that needs to happen for young children today?

I think supporting the mental health of young children is the most important thing we can do right now.

If you could change one social factor impacting families and young children what would it be and why?

Homelessness. There are so many factors that are playing into the homelessness problem right now. My wish is that all families would have a safe and healthy place to live.

What are some of the challenges and how do you deal with them?

The biggest challenge for us right now is dealing with all the restrictions from COVID. We are still meeting with families virtually and we are still hesitant about in person events, especially since the COVID numbers have risen again in our county. But the relationships our home visitors have established with the parents helps. Throughout the last two years, the team continued meeting with families, virtually or from the back porch or across the yard. Everyone was struggling but together it was not as hard.

What do you feel you personally get from working with families and children?

I love to see the growth and successes in children and families. Seeing that makes my heart happy and reinforces my love for the work that I do.

Read More Leading the Way Profiles