Building a Strong Team to Support Tribal Families

In a typical week, Parent Partners travel hundreds of miles to meet with families served by the Home Visiting Program of Riverside-San Bernardino County Indian Health, Inc. (RSBCIHI). They check in with pregnant women about their prenatal care, help parents assess their children’s development, give new parents reassuring advice about child rearing, and do anything else that helps families raise happy and healthy children.

Although he spends most of the day away from his office, Parent Partner Dario Martinez never feels like he’s working alone. “I feel every time I step out in the field that I’m not just going by myself,” says Martinez. “The Parent Partners and our director text each other on a daily basis for encouragement or to share a little success or a new resource. I have my team literally in the palm of my hand.”

RSBCIHI is a consortium of 10 tribes in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, with a service area of more than 27,000 square miles. The RSBCIHI Home Visiting Program is supported by a grant from the Tribal Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program (Tribal Home Visiting), administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families (ACF). RSBCIHI is one of 25 tribal organizations participating in the federal Tribal Home Visiting program.

The Home Visiting Program uses the Parents as Teachers model, which requires parent educators to have at least 2 years of experience working with children in a professional setting. “Our Parent Partners come from very different backgrounds,” says Priscila Jensen, Project Director. “We have some who have worked with the school districts, child care centers and WIC, and they all bring their own expertise to the workplace. It’s been really great to see everyone build off of each other.”

Each Parent Partner is based in an RSBCIHI primary care clinic. They meet as a group two or three times a month and can turn to Jensen and each other whenever they need help. Parent Partner Jaclyn Gray found out just how important this support was during her first month on the job. She was working with a family whose baby had serious delays, and no one could pinpoint the reason.

“Being brand new I had to lean on my team,” says Gray. “Like what do you think? Where should I refer her? What could I say to her?”

Bolstered by the team’s advice, Gray and the family completed a new Ages and Stages Questionnaire on developmental progress to take with them to a specialist at a children’s hospital. With encouragement from Gray and others, the family pressed for further evaluation, which revealed that their daughter had a rare genetic disorder.

“I helped her feel comfortable to speak out and ask questions,” says Gray. “And now she’s taking it upon herself to share with other parents about how she’s learned to talk with doctors. There’s no cure for her child, but she feels like her baby is doing well. A lot of that is because she got so involved and felt empowered to educate herself more.”

Many of the Parent Partners are tribal members, and all have children of their own. “I am a single father,” says Martinez. “I feel that my personal life really enhances my work and lets me bring those skills to the table. My team lets everybody know there’s a male in the program if they want a male visitor. I know they have my back 100%, and it makes me feel like I could go even further, like the sky’s the limit with everything now.”

“I go home with a real sense of pride that there is a program like this out there,” says Gray. “I wish that I’d had a program like this when my kids were young.”

For more information about the RSBCIHI Home Visiting Program, contact Priscila Jensen at 951-849-4761 ext. 1139 or poliva@rsbcihi.org.

Established in 1968, RSBCIHI’s mission is to provide culturally sensitive health care, respect and abide by traditional customs of our Indian communities, and promote wellness and provide early intervention to achieve healthy lifestyles. Get more information about RSBCIHI.

ACF’s Tribal Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program provides grants to tribal entities to develop, implement, and evaluate home visiting programs in American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) communities. The grants are intended to help develop and strengthen tribal capacity to support and promote the health and well-being of AIAN families, expand the evidence base around home visiting in tribal communities, and support and strengthen cooperation and linkages between programs that serve tribal children and their families. Find out more about the Tribal Home Visiting program and grantees.

Last Reviewed: August 26, 2016