Spotlight: Children 0-5

 At-risk children who don't get quality early care and education are:

25% more likely to drop out of school
40% more likely to become a teen parent
70% more likely to be arrested for a violent crime1

UCAN understands the importance of working with disadvantaged and at-risk families when their children are in the first months and years of their life; this helps to ensure parents provide the kinds of experiences that support optimal child development. Studies have shown that infants and children who have experienced trauma, who are rarely spoken to, who are exposed to few toys, and who have little opportunity to explore and experiment with their environment may fail to fully develop the neural connections and pathways that facilitate later learning. The costs in human suffering, loss of potential and real money of trying to repair, remediate or heal these children is far greater than the costs of preventing these problems by promoting healthy brain development and parenting skills during the first few years of life.2

UCAN seeks to serve our youngest population through various programs. A major area of focus is on our youth who are pregnant or parenting and are under the care of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). As a child grows, his/her ability to understand language, solve problems, and get along with other people will be influenced by what that child experiences as an infant and young child. While individual genetic differences have an influence on how a child develops; there is strong evidence that experiences also greatly affect the ways genes are expressed (i.e., turned on and off) in the developing brain. Positive early experiences help the brain to develop well, while experiences of neglect and abuse can literally cause some genetically "normal" children to become mentally unstable or to develop serious emotional difficulties.3

UCAN's Teen Parenting Service Network (TPSN) specializes in helping pregnant or parenting teens to develop the skills necessary to break the cycle of abuse, support independence, and raise healthy children. This year TPSN won the statewide contract to assist teen parents in the entire state of Illinois after formerly serving those in six counties only. Designed specifically for parenting and pregnant youth in DCFS, TPSN aims to provide its youth with a strong support system and network that also provides essential services to benefit our clients' children. TPSN also offers clinical intervention services as well as clinical case consulting and family support services such as parenting groups, one on one home parent coaching, and pre/post natal support.

The number of children served by TPSN by fiscal year:

2005- 999
2006- 856
2007- 749
2008- 747
2009- 613

Of these children, 77% are age two and under and 23% are age three to seven

Real Literacy, a TPSN component launched in 2009, focuses on enhancing clients' literacy skills through reading, writing, and critical thinking - with end goals of increasing the clients' interest in reading and increasing awareness of the benefits of reading to their children. Researchers have found that infants need to interact directly with other human beings, to hear people talking about what they are seeing and experiencing, and to be read to in order for them to develop the best possible language skills. Additionally, when mothers frequently speak to their infants, their children learned almost 300 more words by age two than did their peers who rarely spoke to them.4

Similarly to TPSN, UCAN's Partners in Parenting (PIP) Program works with youth age 16-21 who are both parenting and on the path to emancipation and independence. Our staff provides complete care and support to the parents and their children in the form of case management services, connections to resources, and family support including family planning and parenting and community outreach guidance - all to promote healthy families and productive adults. To read more about this intervention program - please click here. Whether or not our clients' children are currently wards, we provide services for them as well; UCAN's goal is to break the cycle of repeat pregnancies and to prevent our clients' children from becoming wards of the state.

To further serve our youngest population and their families, UCAN provides parenting support and education programs such as Parents Anonymous®, Parenting and Family Education classes, and the High Risk Infant Program.

  • Parents Anonymous® promotes mutual support and parent leadership to build and sustain strong, safe families.

  • UCAN's Parenting and Family Education classes encourage mutual respect between parent and child, increase cooperation, improve communication, and promote a more responsible and self-reliant attitude among children.

  • The High Risk Infant Program provides preventative and supportive services to families residing in Lake County coping with high-risk pregnancies and premature or multiple births. The program aims to prevent at-risk families from becoming involved with the child welfare system by securing transitional services for these families through our organization or through others by creating a support network.

In order to advance our clinicians' knowledge of mental health and trauma while serving children age birth to five. UCAN is thrilled to announce that we will be one of seven organizations participating in 2010's Illinois Child-parent Psychotherapy Learning Collaborative. The Learning Collaborative is a training model to help agencies implement the most effective Child-parent Psychotherapy and other valuable child-parent therapeutic practices into each respective organization's setting. This training will enhance the quality of services to the children we serve who are exposed to violence and other forms of trauma. The Learning Collaborative is a partnership of the Child Trauma Research Program, Erikson Institute, Jewish Child & Family Services, and the Irving Harris Foundation.

2- De Bellis, M.D. (1999). Developmental traumatology. Part 2: Brain Development: Biological Psychiatry  
3&4 - Hart & Risley 1995, Meaningful differences in the everyday experience of young American children

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