Home Visitors in WV Approach Families with Understanding

Trella Coppola, director of Community Action of South Eastern WV, Inc.’s Maternal, Infant, Early Childhood Home Visitation Program (CASEWV), knows that being a home visitor is not for the faint of heart. It takes a very strong individual and high-quality training to prepare them to support families and help build parents’ skills and developmental understanding.

“Not everyone is cut out to be a home visitor.”

Home visitors provide comprehensive child development services in the home environment, including support of the parent/child relationship through education focused activities, group socializations, case management and family advocacy to meet the MIECHV Benchmarks and Head Start/Early Head Start Performance Standards, according to CASEWV.

Home Visitors Need to be Well-Trained

With such high stakes, it’s no wonder that stress and anxiety are embedded in the role. Home visitors stay in their positions for two to four years, on average. Yet these individuals are vital to supporting parents and helping them build a strong foundation for their children’s development. And to keep these individuals in their roles, they need to be well-trained.

Trella has built a program in West Virginia with no turnover among her staff in four years. She says being a home visitor requires a very strong individual and high-quality training to prepare them to support families and help build parents’ skills and developmental understanding.

Flip the Script from Clinical to Empathetic

Reflective supervision is widely recognized in the early childhood field as an essential professional development tool for supporting young children and their families, and it is directly embedded in Early Head Start and Head Start’s programs. Working with especially vulnerable infants and toddlers can be fast-paced, complex, and emotionally intense. Home visitors need the time to reflect—to stop and think about what has happened, is happening, and what should happen next.

When a new teammate joined Trella’s team from Child Protective Services, reflective supervision training helped “flip the script” from clinical to empathetic. With key pillars of empathy and understanding, reflective supervision helped change the new teammate’s mindset and profession from “do your children need to be taken from your home?” to “let me help you work through this.”

It’s this type of mindset that is essential to home visitors.

“When you get frustrated and want to give up on a family, walk a mile in their shoes,” advises Trella.

A “How Can I Help” Mindset

This is exactly how Trella and her team were able to help one West Virginia mother. A former addict who recently regained custody of her children, this mother was referred to Trella’s team for maternal depression. Trella worked with her team to embody a “How Can I Help?” mindset. They made sure the children were cared for and sat in the waiting room to support this mother while she received the mental health treatment she needed.

“‘I never would have stayed in that waiting room if you weren’t here with me,’ the mom said. That’s walking beside somebody,” Trella says. Now clean and healthy, this mother is working to support a group of mothers who are all suffering with depression to get them help.

Parents of all walks of life and circumstances can use support—not just those who are suffering. Two parents, both of whom were lawyers, reached out to CASEWV after realizing that, while they had experience with the law, they had little experience with children and a lack of understanding of their development. These new parents were able to gain the skills and understanding to help their child have a healthy, strong start.

“It ties back to walking alongside someone,” Trella says. “Every parent needs help and support at some point.”

Early Head Start

This post is one in a series of features about Early Head Start programs across the country. Early Head Start helps families navigate and access the comprehensive, wraparound support they need during the most critical years of their children’s development—prenatal to age three. When all families are able to build a strong foundation for their children, we all have a brighter, healthier future. To help ensure all parents and caregivers have access to Early Head Start support, visit go.nhsa.org/EHS-advocacy to learn more and become an advocate.

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