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How Are The Children?

In Kenya, the Masai people often greet friends and travelers with the phrase “kasserian ingera”, which means “and how are the children?” Even those with no children of their own answer “all the children are well,” expressing the traditional priority of protecting the young and vulnerable in their communities.

How Are The Children? is a new, local informational campaign, based on cutting edge research and age-old wisdom. It is a campaign developed by trusted people living in Blue Hill peninsula and island towns who care about children and how they grow—parents and grandparents, childcare providers, teachers, healthcare workers, and others who work with children and families every day.

This campaign has been created as a series of messages about the value of supporting families with young children, from before birth to 3 years old. This critical period of a child’s life is when their brains are developing the fastest and they are learning how to navigate the world. Research shows us that how babies are cared for in infancy affects their health, their ability to learn new information, cope with stress, and manage their emotions and behavior throughout their entire lives, not just in childhood.

Starting in January, look for new postings from How Are The Children? every month on social media, websites, school newsletters, and newspapers, in libraries, banks, businesses, churches, and on community billboards. Each month will bring a concise message, a short ‘promotion,’ and a longer, more detailed article. These messages will focus on different aspects of four main areas important to keeping babies healthy and thriving: family support, community resources, early child care and education, and investment in families—economic, community-based, and public policy. Messages will keep babies’ and their parents’ needs visible; short promotions will highlight the issues, and articles will explain the research, tell illustrative stories from our communities, and promote actions we can take to make a difference.

Healthy Families Initiatives
Erica Garvey - Healthy Families Coordinator

ERICA GARVEY

Early Childhood Coordinator

My professional background, while inclusive of doing bookkeeping for a construction company, is in social work and rehabilitation counseling. I spent several years working in the City of Richmond, Virginia providing direct therapeutic and case management services and advocacy for adults who lived with serious mental illness, substance use and were experiencing homelessness.

What is the "How Are the Children?" Campaign

How are our children? In the best of times, raising families in our rural towns has become more complicated with both parents often working, varying availability of childcare, transportation issues, and lack of employment opportunities. With the added stress of the COVID pandemic, families are struggling—job loss or underemployment, feelings of isolation or depression, stress of home-schooling, problems paying for housing or childcare, anxiety about getting sick, worry about having enough food. Every family is facing some kind of challenge and every child is feeling the effects of family stress and separation from grandparents, neighbors, and school friends.

Why should we care? Because, in some way, every child living in our peninsula and island towns is our child. Every child grows up to be a valuable member of our community—neighbor, co-worker, business owner, caregiver, parent, volunteer, friend. Every child has the potential to thrive at home, succeed in school, and live a meaningful and productive life. Every child deserves this chance.

There is so much for all of us to learn about babies’ brain development, parents’ natural gifts and skills as their babies’ first teachers, and the kinds of investment needed to help families thrive—from local resources and community programs to public policy. Parents and caregivers, as well as neighbors, schools, churches, businesses, and local and state government all play a role in how our children grow, flourish, and achieve.

How are the children? The more we ask this question of ourselves and others, the more we care about the answer. The more we care as a community, the more potential we have of ensuring all the children will be well.

Sandra Phoenix is a family nurse practitioner and Healthy Peninsula Board member. The How Are The Children? campaign is funded through a grant from the Maine Community Foundation to Healthy Peninsula, in partnership with School Unions 76 and 93, early child educators, health providers, and community organizations and services. Your Health Matters is a health column by Healthy Peninsula and Northern Light Blue Hill Hospital.

February's Message
Babies Brain Connections Last a Lifetime

Like constructing a house, brains are built upon a strong foundation. This starts before birth, and is very important during the first three years of life. ​Parents are babies’ first teachers and are one of the most important parts of the brain developmental equation. The love that parents feel towards their babies and the kind of attention they give them provide the best kind of stimulation for their growing brains and bodies, and for their emotional security. This emotional security, established in infancy​, will help determine lifelong health, social skills, and personal resilience.

How can we help?​ Learn about babies and what they need to thrive. Develop warm, caring relationships with young families and offer your time and wisdom. Encourage

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parents to seek help to manage their stress or concerns. ​Support policies that contribute to preventive health care for pregnant women and their young children. Learn about the resources in your community.

 

To read our full article, click here.

March's Message
Serve-and-Return - Reading and 'covering' with babies teach language, communication, social skills and self-esteem.

Have you ever played an enjoyable game of ball toss or ping-pong where one partner serves and another returns the serve? Early language is like a game with serves and returns. Imagine you played with a partner who looked at his/her phone when you served, or, you played with a partner who insisted you keep playing after you lost interest? The game would break down and the opportunities for fun, relationship building, and exercise would be lost.

The back-and-forth of reciprocal interactions, called “serve-and-return”, shape babies’ brains. When a child babbles, gestures, smiles, or cries and an adult responds with

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recognition and interest, brain connections are built and strengthened—connections that support language, communication, social skills, and self-esteem. How does this happen?

To read our full article, click here.

April's Message
HOW ARE THE CHILDREN? THEY ARE ALL DIFFERENT!

Did you ever wonder why children, born with the same parents and growing up in the same house, could be so different? It’s probably due to temperament.

Baby Henry is a year old. He has a 3-year-old sister who is typically happy, sociable, and a joy to be with. Henry cries A LOT! He doesn’t sleep much, has intense reactions to loud sounds and bright lights, and is extremely active. He’s easily frustrated and hard to comfort. His parents are exhausted. His mom feels like she’s a bad mother and is beginning to dread her time with Henry.

 

Every child is born with his own individual way of approaching the world—also known as “temperament.” Temperament shapes a child’s development and relationships in significant ways,

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so understanding a child’s temperament is very important for nurturing his healthy development. Henry and his sister have the same family and home, but they are very different. Henry is more challenging to raise than his sister, but he is not a “bad baby”.

There are five primary temperament characteristics—emotional intensity and reactivity, activity level, sociability, ability to cope with change, and frustration tolerance.

To read our full article, click here.

May's Message
HOW ARE THE CHILDREN? Maine's economy depends on our youngest children!

Recently, we asked Haley McDonald, long time Deer Isle childcare owner and teacher, how she would ‘fix’ the childcare crisis in this country. “Childcare should be federally subsidized. The employees are not getting paid a reasonable wage to make this their career, it just feels like a stopping point for most of them. If this career was treated like a profession, like public school teaching, we would have more dedicated staff and less turn-over. Centers cannot charge enough to pay employees adequately, but if there was a partial subsidy from the government, centers could make up the difference with parent fees.”

Over 60 years of research show that investment in quality childcare and PreK has strong economic benefits for society, including: improved health outcomes for children into adulthood; higher high school graduation rates; higher lifelong earnings; decreased risky behaviors and arrests; and, lower rates of special education. Yet, in Maine, only 3.3% of children from birth to 3 years receive early intervention services, only 35% of four-year-olds have access to public preschool, while 20% of children ages 3–21 years receive special education services. Every child deserves help, but are we spending our tax dollars where our children will receive the greatest benefit? 

To read our full article, click here

June's Message
HOW ARE THE CHILDREN? THE CHILDREN ARE WELL CARED FOR!

We are in a childcare crisis in Maine and across the country. It’s not a new thing, but the pandemic has increased awareness about how hard it is for parents to work when they don’t have access to safe, affordable childcare. Even the best centers have trouble hiring and keeping good teachers. With low salaries, no relief for college loans, and few-if-any-benefits, fewer people are choosing early childhood education as careers. The skill and knowledge involved in providing high quality care is expensive in a system that relies primarily on parents’ fees to fund childcare.

To read our full article, click here

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July's Message
HOW ARE THE CHILDREN? THE CHILDREN ARE LEARNING EVERY DAY!

Not everyone in the community has a young child or even knows a family with a young child. However, everyone in the community has a role to play in supporting families and making certain that young children are prepared for success in school and in life.

The wellbeing of our youngest children is the bedrock of the health of our community. Our area schools are working hard to meet the needs of children from preK through high school. Our tax dollars support school budgets so our children have access to good teachers and learning services.Here’s the challenge to our long-term goal of having every child prepared for school and 

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life success—the academic, social and emotional development needed to meet this goal largely happen in a child’s first three years. Children arrive at school with a very wide range of “readiness” skills and opportunities to see themselves as capable learners. If learning begins before birth and schooling begins at age 4 or 5, it is up to us all, as caring members of the community, to make sure our children enter school physically healthy, and with the emotional and cognitive—thinking and learning—foundation they need to keep thriving.

To read our full article, click here

September's Message
HOW ARE THE CHILDREN? Everyone depends on someone who depends on childcare!

“In May 2020, day-care workers earned a median wage of less than $12 an hour. Annual turnover in some child-care jobs can be as high as 30 percent, according to the Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families.”

Twelve dollars an hour for teachers and caregivers who keep our youngest children safe, fed, clean, engaged, and comforted while their parents work—front-line jobs, professional careers, retailers, service providers. Twelve dollars an hour, usually without benefits for caregivers who do far more than keep children safe and fed. These are educators who, like teachers of older children,

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need to understand child development, learning and teaching a diverse range of abilities and ages. Twelve dollars an hour and expected to work year-round and to document training hours in order to keep up licenses. Twelve dollars an hour and trying to pay the rent, put food on the table, pay for one’s own childcare, and in many cases, pay for health insurance.

To read our full article, click here

Decembers's Message
HOW ARE THE CHILDREN? The children are loved and respected, and learning every day!

“An infant always learns. The less we interfere with the natural process of learning, the more we can observe how much infants learn all the time.”

educator and author, Magda Gerber

Try to imagine what it was like to be a newborn infant. It is a moment in time we all hold in common, yet few of us consciously remember. The world was brand new, filled with a multitudeof first-time experiences. At birth, infants experience their bodies being outside the protection of the womb for the first time, absorbing the newness of their emerging senses. They instinctively

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seek nourishment, warmth, and the intimacy of touch. Given space and time, a newborn infant will actively creep up their mother’s belly to nurse, a miraculous journey to behold. From the moment of birth, the newborn seeks to engage with their primary caregiver and with their environment.

To read our full article, click here

January's Message (2022)
HOW ARE THE CHILDREN? They are developing alongside others in their community - babies to giants!

Conversation with Sam (age 3). Who are the youngest people?

Sam: babies.

Who’s next?

Sam: big boys.

Who’s next?

Sam: grownups.

Anybody else?

Sam: giants!

Young children think growing is simply a matter of getting bigger. Anyone reading this knows that

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growth and development involves changes in many different ways and while we all age, few of us become giants!

 

As we look at supporting the growth and wellbeing of all of the Peninsula’s citizens, it’s helpful to look at a how we develop. Reaching our full potential means growing deeper within ourselves, not just growing bigger and stronger like Sam’s giants. Reaching our full potential as individuals, and as a community, involves mutual aid from everyone, not just our families.

To read our full article, click here

On Social Media and In the News
How You Can Use the Messages Too

As part of this campaign, we are asking community connections to help with the distribution of the campaign messages and articles, each month, through your organization's social media, in whatever way works best for you and your clients:

  • online or print newsletters each month for families or providers

  • website

  • Facebook page

  • conversations with clients

  • other

Each month, around the second Monday, you will receive another message, short promotion, and article to use and distribute as you wish. From time to time, there will also be an age appropriate photo that will illustrate the written information for your use (parental permission obtained).

To become a part of this campaign, contact Sandy Phoenix at sphoenix@healthypeninsula.org.

Funding for this campaign has been generously provided by the Maine Community Foundation as a part of an early childhood community grant under their Strong Start strategic goal envisioning that "all Maine children receive a healthy start and arrive at kindergarten developmentally prepared to succeed in school and life."  

Visit www.mainecf.org to learn more.

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