Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, with whom the discretion in such matters rests, has decided that the budget for the Missouri Parents as Teachers programs, PAT, will be cut by $7.4 million. This reduction, when combined with the 10 percent cut of PAT 's budget last year, creates a substantial downsizing of funding for that organization.
The governor’s unwillingness to support this highly effective early childhood educational program should be a matter of great concern to all Missourians. We are all stakeholders in the future that the children, and only the children, represent.
PAT started here in Missouri. The organization traces its roots back to research and resolutions of the 1970s but was finally established as a pilot project for first-time parents of newborns in 1981. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Danforth Foundation provided funding at that time. In 1985, based on the success of the project, the state of Missouri stepped up with funding to implement PAT statewide. The PAT program has since spread across the nation.
PAT works with the parents of children from pregnancy to 5 years of age. This is the newborn to pre-school phase that experts have described as the most critical period of development in childhood.
Local PAT chapters send certified teachers into homes in their communities to teach and coach parents on how best to work developmentally with their child during early childhood – in short, parents are taught to be teachers to their children. The PAT process is one of education and assessment that has proven to be invaluable to client children for the past quarter of a century. PAT currently provides services to more than 150,000 children in Missouri.
Although there are those who view PAT as most likely aimed at the “at risk” population, teenage parents, unwed and single mothers and so on, the fact is that the program is open, accessed by, and greatly beneficial, to all families regardless of income or other factors.
A first grandchild, born a few years ago, informs my personal perspective on PAT. My wife and I followed the progress of her parents and our little girl as they experienced the visitations of the PAT teacher. We were impressed.
Then in 2008, I became one of the co-founders of Grandparents and Others on Watch GrOW, a child advocacy organization dedicated to the prevention of the rape and sexual molestation of children. Part of our operating mission is to identify and support organizations that actually go out into the community with programs that may intervene and prevent the rape and molestation of children.
Parents as Teachers is at top of the list of organizations that we believe should receive permanent public funding and support because of its direct impact in the well being, safety and education of children.
(Also at the top of the list: the National Safe Place program and the Internet Crimes Against Children program – the Mid-Missouri Internet Crime Task Force is a member of the Internet Crimes Against Children program).
PAT teachers go out into the community and into the homes of client families. They engage in direct personal contact and professional dialogue with the child and parents. They monitor and assess the development of the child. Development may include such matters as hygiene, nourishment and neglect or abuse.
Although some homes are not open to PAT, there is reason to believe that the PAT education, assessment and monitoring programs have had the effect of intervention or prevention of child abuse. The need for programs that provide some means of direct intervention and prevention was, perhaps, driven home to residents of mid-Missouri by the recent Cortez Johnson abuse and murder case.
Given the unquestionable value to society of the PAT program, there is no valid argument against fully funding and supporting that organization.
Missourians must recognize the necessity of restoring funding of Parents as Teachers to at least the level of two years ago and urge Gov. Nixon to take action to do so at once.
Dan William Peek is the president of Grandparents and Others On Watch, a child advocacy organization dedicated to the prevention of the rape and sexual molestation of children.