Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Dallas HIPPY Spotlight

Dallas HIPPY Team 2008-2009

Last year I was asked by HIPPY USA to serve as the external monitor visiting Dallas HIPPY. Usually other HIPPY USA trainers are brought in to evaluate Texas sites, but I quickly agreed because I felt it was an opportunity to provide in depth technical assistance to our original Texas HIPPY site and work in my home turf. Each site is assigned a national trainer for a 2-3 year cycle, and last year our “visit” began with an assessment of program strengths and challenges and identification of areas in which staff wanted technical assistance and support. We developed a plan together and this year I have followed up with in depth observations of home visits, a file review and observation of parent group meetings to see how the plan has been implemented. As I zoomed around town from one home visit and school to another I was suddenly reminded that this little corner of the world is abuzz with HIPPY! Right in the neighborhood where I live (Oak Cliff) there are several “HIPPY Schools”. Indeed, this is one of our challenges; HIPPY can often seem invisible because it’s happening in the privacy of family homes and in remote corners of school campuses. On my first home visit, the parent recognized me from 20 years ago when she was first in HIPPY with her oldest son and I was the HIPPY coordinator! She said that when she had her youngest daughter, now 4, she sought the program out even though she had moved to a new neighborhood. She wanted to ensure her daughter had the same opportunities she had given to her oldest son. At the parent meeting in another neighborhood the coordinator started the meeting with a quick warm up that resulted in parents identifying the skills that children were learning in the HIPPY activities. To have a group of parents of preschoolers engaged in “teacher talk” about vocabulary development, logical thinking and eye hand coordination caught the attention of nearby teachers who weren’t sure if this was a staff development or a parent meeting! Later, back “at home” in the Dallas HIPPY office, I was so impressed by the intensity and level of the home visitor training; the coordinators have developed a series of interactive and engaging training activities that prepare home visitors for enriching conversations with parents about the development of their children, the skills they are practicing and the instructional techniques used in HIPPY. Each component that I observed brought home the realization that we need to bring HIPPY into the public eye! We have some really great things happening!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Dallas HIPPY Board of Friends

Off to a great start! The Board of Friends (known as Advisory Council at other sites) had the first meeting of the year on March 10th. Our format for the first meeting was a program crosswalk, giving all partners the opportunity to share what's upcoming in their organization. Information was shared that HIPPY staff will take to their HIPPY parents, such as:

  • Dallas Recreation Center resources

  • Dallas Public library, Every Child Ready to Read activities

  • Injury Prevention Center planning activities

  • Boys and Girls Club of Dallas initiatives

We were so pleased to have Irma Vela, retired HIPPY coordinator joining us and sharing her expertise and support for HIPPY. Thanks to her, Dallas HIPPY has since received a gift of various household items to be used as door prizes for parent meetings.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Starting a New Program

One of the most challenging, and rewarding, parts of my job is supporting organizations that want to bring HIPPY into their community. Each start up is different, but in my experience all of them have the following similarities:

  • Need for school readiness and parent involvement - once the organization recognizes this need they see HIPPY as a viable solution that is cost effective and has the desired outcomes.

  • A champion, who advocates for the program until it becomes a reality! This person is a leader who is often within the organization that eventually hosts the program, although sometimes it's a dedicated volunteer or other member of the community.

  • Innovation culture in the organization - HIPPY often takes a change in perspective from seeing parents as a problem to recognizing them as powerful advocates and partners in their children's education. While home visitation has a proven track record, it is often perceived as risky or outside of the normal operations of an organization and it takes an innovative organization to recognize the power of this method.

  • Funding, this is what it all comes down to--finding that funding means grant writing, pulling together collaborations and partnerships and building HIPPY into existing resource streams.

Over the years I have witnessed so much interest in HIPPY, but unless all these aspects are in place, that interest does not gel into a new program starting up. It takes between 8 months and 3 years for that original interest to coalesce into a real program. This is a long and arduous process that can be compared to starting up a new business. The other day I found a website that helps non profits develop new parent education programs and identify what needs to be in place for a program to be successful. I thought it was interesting and an excellent resource for new programss to be developed so I'm sharing it here: http://www.cyfernet.org/pdpe/

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

RCT or die?

How do we prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that HIPPY
has made a significant difference in the futures of these children?
OK, that headline sounded a bit dire and dramatic I know but my mind keeps wandering back to the heated discussions we had on RCTs during the National HIPPY Evaluation Summit. Randomized Control Trials (RCTs) had everyone avidly sharing their opinion both for and against. Let's see if I can outline some thoughts while still maintaining some neutrality. Almost all of social science is built on quasi-experimental designs as well as in depth qualitative studies (such as case studies). RCTs follow the medical model for studying the effectiveness of drugs or medical interventions. In an RCT, participants are randomly assigned to a control group or an intervention group and evaluation is done on both groups throughout and/or after the intervention. Recently this approach is being discussed among legislators and policy-makers and held up as the “gold standard” of social science research. Why aren’t we hopping quickly onto this bandwagon? Why haven’t we done this already? First of all, it’s a very expensive evaluation design that requires serious resources in terms of expertise and staffing that makes it inaccessible to most programs—it necessitates a separate source of funding for the evaluation component alone that is most likely more expensive than the cost of the program it evaluates. Second, it works best in the initial implementation phase of a program, not as an ongoing program evaluation design. This reduces the opportunity to implement RCT to new programs, which may be at their most vulnerable in terms of fidelity to the model due to the inexperience of staff. The third and last reason why we’ve been hesitant to implement RCT is the nature of the HIPPY intervention. As a voluntary program being offered to vulnerable populations we are recruiting families based on relationships we’re building with them. During this recruitment phase we discuss with parents how their child will benefit from the parent’s commitment to the weekly visit and to working with their child daily. We discuss the materials they will be provided and the support they will be offered through home visits and group meetings. In an RTC model we would then have to randomly assign parents to the HIPPY and control groups. While this is common practice in drug trials, it’s not common in social services and could be damaging to the credibility and standing of the sponsoring organization if not handled in a socially responsible and positive way. If we could work out those three “little details” we would consider hosting a HIPPY RCT.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Creating Intelligence

In "Rising Above I.Q." a June 7th, 2009 NY Times op ed written by Nicholas D. Kristof, he says that by studying the "the success of Asian-Americans, Jews and West Indian blacks...there may be some lessons for the rest of us." What makes individuals in these groups rise above the norm? He scratches off higher intelligence and genetics as possible reasons. He recognizes diligence and hard work as factors. But ultimately the solution is...EDUCATION, EDUCATION, EDUCATION! Being read to and having parents regularly speaking to their young child are simple ideas that work. He cites research demonstrating that the average child of professional parents have heard 30 million words spoken by age 3, compared to a child who was raised "on welfare" (therefore the parent is presumed to be low income) has heard only 10 million words.

HIPPY gives parents words, so their child does not enter school with a 20 million word disadvantage.