First Things First connects families to programs The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

First Things First connects families to programs

First Things First connects families to programs

By Donna Shott
Tribune Guest Writer

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, technology has become nearly essential to stay in contact with friends and family. For many
who work with young children, technology has also offered an alternative way to provide those families resources and support.

First Things First, Arizona’s early childhood agency, funds early learning and family support programs across
the state.

Many of those programs have adjusted the way they work with families to continue to provide services during this challenging time.

For example, parenting classes have gone online, and providers are connecting more with families by phone or text. Libraries are hosting live story time through online video chat, while parents watch alongside their child and are able to ask their child questions and reactions to the story. 

The Chandler CARE Center transitioned to online and virtual programs in March, providing parent education, preschool science, story time, and more via social media channels.

In order to supplement online options, Family Resource Center staff also provided contactless material and book pick up events for families, where parents could get a craft and activity kit with materials they could use to participate in the activities that had been posted online by staff.

At AZCEND, the Giggles, Squiggles and Squirms early literacy program has been meeting virtually via Zoom. 

Outreach events along with diaper and family resource distributions are safely being provided to families in a drive-thru format.

In some parts of Arizona, developmental screenings, which are critical for identifying developmental delays in babies, toddlers and preschoolers are being conducted through online video chat.

The Birth to Five Helpline, a statewide helpline that is partially funded by FTF, earlier this year, started offering parents and caregivers the opportunity to meet face-to-face over online video chat to answer questions.

The helpline is a free service for all Arizona parents or caregivers to call, text or email with questions about their young child’s development. The helpline can also offer families connections to local resources and supports.

The Birth to Five Helpline is available at 1-877-705-5437 from Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. You can also leave a voicemail, submit your question online, or text the Helpline 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

FTF also funds home visitation, which provides a trained parent educator who makes in-home visits and offers personalized support families with children birth to age 5. Those visits are now conducted online.

Families have adjusted to this new model being parent, as well as teacher, but the Group Connections, which are a staple of the home visitation program and bring together multiple families, is where the team got creative, said Alyssa Fredericks, a parent educator.

“Our Group Connection for May was for families to make Jell-O Jigglers and share some photos about the process,” she said. “It turned out to be a very successful activity as parents shared their stories with pictures.”

Through all of the changes and as families have to adapt in so many ways during the pandemic, providers say it is important to maintain a sense of normalcy for families.

“We choose items that can be in many people’s homes,” Fredericks said. “It helps our parents as they spend more time being their child’s teacher.”

For information about the FTF-funded early childhood programs and services that are available in your community, visit and select Find Programs.

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