I have spent this past semester interning at Children’s Home Society as a Parent Aide. Children’s Home Society is a non-profit organization in Walla Walla that oversees a number of programs to promote healthy homes for children. Some programs that Children’s Home Society oversees include: Early Head Start, Triple Point, Parents as Teachers, Head Start, and the Parent Aide program, among others. Each works to encourage healthy development through parent education and interventions for children of a variety of ages. In my capacity as a Parent Aide, I am matched with two families in Walla Walla who I visit with once or twice a week. During our visits, we work towards specific goals that we set together with the help of one of my supervisors. These goals range from organizing their home to learning effective and appropriate discipline techniques to budgeting for the family.
In order to prepare for my home visits, I participated in a twelve-hour training, which reviewed topics such as active listening, healthy child development, and recognizing signs of abuse and neglect. I also meet regularly with my supervisor, who has a masters in social work and years of experience mentoring families in Walla Walla. Monthly, all of the parent aides get together to discuss particularly challenging parts of their case load and get advice from the group.
The families I work with put a lot of trust in Children’s Home Society and my own ability to help them, so I spend time every week reflecting on how to best help these people meet the goals they have set. Outside of meeting with the families, I read up on child development, parenting strategies, and emotion coaching in order to be prepared. Because I have never raised children, there is a lot for me to learn before I can help others. During a typical home visit, we begin by chatting generally about their week. My families often have a limited social support network, so I can build rapport through offering empathetic listening. Once we have chatted for a bit, I find an opportunity to transition into discussing the goals we are working on. Often they will report what progress they have made in the last week, and we will problem solve through obstacles they have faced. From there, we will either discuss next steps in achieving that goal or other ones that they are simultaneously working on.
I have learned a lot from this internship. Although I have studied child development extensively at Whitman, there is a substantial difference between reading about a developmental milestone and watching it happen. Additionally, I am writing my thesis about poverty and child development, and my internship has allowed me to witness the negative impact of poverty in the real world. Furthermore, I have improved my counseling and mentoring skills. For example, motivating people to change negative habits requires patience and a willingness to meet people where they are. I cannot walk into someone’s home and demand that they child-proof their living-room without first building trust, which takes time. After I’ve finished a home visit, I write up notes to my supervisor that tracks what we worked on as well as any significant conversations that I had with the parents that day. My supervisor provides me with additional materials to bring to my families as we work towards goals such as exercises to build attachment with their children or informational pamphlets on certain developmental milestones.
Sometimes, I also volunteer with the weekly socials that are held at the Children’s Home Society main office. Here, some of my families come to play with other families for a few hours on Friday. This benefits their children by providing them with opportunities to socialize with their peers and also the parents by helping to build a social network with other parents in their community. We run fun and developmentally appropriate activities, such as shaving cream and play-do art, which is what I am working on in this photo! Overall, my experience at Children’s Home Society has allowed me to practice some clinical skills and learn a lot about the Walla Walla community.