Reading to a child and having books in the home are key indicators of future academic success but two-thirds of low income families do not own a single children’s book. Through a partnership with the Cleveland Kids’ Book Bank, which is now one year strong, MomsFirst participants are able to have access to books free of cost. Cleveland Kids’ Book Bank works to foster improved literacy and a love of reading by providing gently used books to children in need. In 2016, MomsFirst distributed 9,508 books from Cleveland Kids’ Book Bank to its 1700+ participants and families. MomsFirst participants are appreciative of the partnership. “I am currently a client in the MomsFirst program. I really like the new book program that my worker brings out for my daughters. My kids love reading every night before bedtime”, said one participant.
Understanding early brain development is an important public health topic for community health education. According to research, reading aloud from birth for at least 15 minutes daily is the best way to prepare a child for school. While early literacy may not be early reading instruction or teaching babies to read, the natural skills developed through the positive interactions between babies and parents help babies learn language through social experiences and positively impacts success in school. Kindergarten readiness begins at birth.
MomsFirst Community Health Worker, Kristen Knudsen of Merrick House, remembers being read to every night by her mother. “Every night no matter what she would read to me. I hated school. I had no interest in going, but I always did really well with reading”, she stated. “My home life was not good so reading let me escape that. It was a way for me to live a different life through reading”, she said.
Newborn to age 3 are critical years in the development of language skills. Barriers such as poverty or lead exposure make attaining these skills more challenging, however, free resources provided to families help ease the burden of barriers and give hope to parents who want a better future for their children. “MomsFirst is very important because there are very few programs for poverty level families that are free and dedicated to maintaining and tracking the development of children. I also liked the literacy program supported by MomsFirst because it encourages frequent reading and interaction within the first years of life”, said one MomsFirst participant.
Children in the community are also benefiting from free books they discover in Cleveland Little Free Libraries. Cleveland Little Free Libraries, a project of the Cleveland Kids’ Book Bank, are small, engaging neighborhood kiosks filled with books. There are more than 85 little free libraries in Cleveland. Friendly Inn Settlement House, a provider of MomsFirst services, sponsors a little free library in Cleveland’s Central Neighborhood.
“Friendly Inn has had a little free library for about 3 years now and we see children looking in there to get books on their way to and from school”, said Bobbie Hurley, MomsFirst Case Manager at Friendly Inn Settlement House.
Partnerships give visibility to important issues like infant mortality, link more residents to resources and provide the advocacy needed to make families in need a priority. Collaboration is one way MomsFirst uses collective impact to make sure more babies reach their first birthdays, and thrive well beyond that important milestone.