Before a new children's initiative can knock down the barriers that keep children from succeeding in school, it must knock down the barriers that keep agencies from working together to provide services.
"There's a real silo mentality and agencies don't want to lose their own positioning," said Maria Farrington, director of the children's initiative, Success By 6. "We're challenging agencies to find ways to work collaboratively. That's the essence of reinventing a system. Get rid of duplication and fill in gaps."United Way oversees Success By 6, bringing together agencies and advocates to reach families in high-risk neighborhoods with services, support and education so that preschoolers will be nourished physically, mentally and emotionally when they enter school. While United Way will "bring everyone to the table" and ensure collaboration, it will not actually provide services, said Colleen Kelley, United Way director of communications.
"This is really cutting edge. We're preparing children for life and that's why (officials and corporations) are getting so fired up."
Success By 6 focuses on prevention and the need "to look at the family in a different way, to treat everyone in the family," Far-ring-ton said.
The first targets will be low-income women who are pregnant and their families. But the program hopes to reach all families of preschoolers.
Committees have been meeting for months to identify needs, plan an evaluation process, set goals and select sites for the pilot program. Those committees read like a Who's Who of Utah's state officials, corporation executives, nonprofit agencies and churches.
The program will begin within the boundaries of Lincoln Elementary School, 1090 Roberta St. Next year it will expand to Jackson and Mountain View elementary school areas.
The panels found deficiencies in child care and a need for high school completion for young mothers. Also needed are better employment skills training, parenting classes, prenatal services, home visitors, expanded hours for medical and social services, and mental health and substance abuse services.
The group hopes to make sure certain services are available at a reasonable cost, with convenient locations and business hours. In the inner-city neighborhoods, Farrington said, it is also important that public transportation is handy and all services are provided with "cultural sensitivity."
While fund raising will be an ongoing effort for the next 18 months (the program needs $2 million, which will be leveraged into $20 million), the next step will be choosing an agency to oversee the "Way to Grow" home visitor program. The request for proposals will be sent out by the end of September and an agency selected to lead the effort before the end of October, Farrington said.
Home visitors will be people who live in the target neighborhoods. According to a draft proposal, they should have a majority of these traits: parental experience, dedication to the community, bilingual, past or present social-services use, positive self-esteem and low to moderate income. They should be literate, able to work with little supervision, self-motivated, willing and able to learn and reflective of the area's ethnic diversity.