Staff holding baby
First Chance for Children: Breaking Down and Dismantling Barriers to Success

First Chance for Children is all about identifying needs in order to ensure that families and their children are successful. Sometimes that means offering parenting information that keeps babies safe, in other cases, it means providing safe cribs, diapers, and toys that stimulate growth and development. As an organization concerned with helping children be the best they can be, we loved the idea of giving kids a great start. This is why we chose First Chance for Children as a recipient for our small grant award.

We put questions to First Chance for Children Executive Director Kasey Hammock and this organization’s Baby Bags Diaper Bank Coordinator Verena Wilkerson to learn more about this work:

Kars4Kids: Can you tell us something about the demographic you serve? Who are the children and families you work with?

Kasey Hammock: First Chance for Children strives to serve all families with children ages 0-5 in mid-Missouri. Parenting is hard for everyone, so we provide a wide array of services to meet each family’s unique and ever-changing needs. We have an emphasis on serving families with the highest level of need, and those who have been historically underrepresented and underserved, but most of our programs are open to all.

Kars4Kids: Tell us about your Lend and Learn Toy Library. We understand this isn’t just a place to play with kids and toys, but also a place where parents can ask parenting questions.

Kasey Hammock: Lend and Learn Libraries are a free, fun place where parents can play with their children ages 0-5, interact with other parents, and ask trained staff questions about development or other concerns. Toys are available for check out so families can extend learning and play at home. There are locations with regular hours in Columbia and Centralia, and varying hours in other locations across mid-Missouri.

Kars4Kids: You have what you call Stay at Home, Play at Home activity kits. Were these designed specifically for the pandemic? What do the kits include? How long can families hold onto them before it’s time to return them?

Kasey Hammock: The kits are designed to give families play-based learning activities that encourage creativity, imagination, sensory experiences, movement, going outside, and family togetherness. These activity kits include a full month of activities for families with young children ages 0-5. They were designed specifically for the pandemic when it was particularly unsafe for children and families to gather. Families can keep all the items in the kits and continue to use them to play together for activities outside the kit!

Water activity for toddlers
Fun toddler water activity prior to the pandemic.

Kars4Kids: Can you give us an overview of your Baby Bags program? What’s in a Baby Bag? Why is this program necessary?

Verena Wilkerson: Baby Bags is a two-part program that includes a Smart Start kit (the original baby bag) and access to our diaper bank. Families can access diapers and wipes, hygiene items, and other supplies needed to provide care and comfort to children which are delivered along with development and safety information. The program started with our Smart Start kit, first conceived while meeting with MU pediatric and emergency room residents over 15 ago.

Our program director asked the residents what First Chance for Children could give families to reduce incidents of preventable emergency room visits. The residents suggested safety kits that would include: outlet covers and door and cabinet locks; a bath thermometer easy for parents to use to prevent scalding; a health kit including a thermometer so that families could know if their child was running a temperature; and finally, an infant sleeper, so a family would know what was safe for their child to sleep in. The bag also includes a safe sleep book and infant and maternal health information.

This program is necessary because some families don’t always have the supplies or resources necessary to provide a safe and healthy environment. The Smart Start kit and diaper bank provide essential items to help parents provide a safe and healthy environment for their child.

The First Chance for Children Diaper Bank
The First Chance for Children Diaper Bank.

Kars4Kids: Tell us about your Safe C.R.I.B.S. program. Why did you decide to offer cribs to the parents of your community? Isn’t this the first purchase a parent would make, borrow, or buy second-hand? Is it just the crib you give out, or is it more than that?

Kasey Hammock: Babies are at greatest risk of child abuse and death because of sleep issues during their first year of life. First Chance for Children’s Safe C.R.I.B.S. program provides a safe crib and the information families need to safely put their child to bed and deal with sleep-related issues. The crib is delivered to the family home and is followed by five additional home visits that focus on child abuse and neglect prevention, and child development information.

There are so many unsafe types of cribs, it’s really important to pick the right one. Often the right ones are expensive and many families can’t afford them and used ones are many times outdated and unsafe. We help break down the barrier to make safe sleep possible for families across mid-Missouri.

infant in safe crib next to parent bed
C.R.I.B.S. program provides safe cribs and teaches parents about infant sleep safety.

Kars4Kids: What can you tell us about Baby U?

Kasey Hammock: Baby U is designed to help families strengthen protective factors that help them navigate the issues of raising children. It is a home visitation program that serves families with children prenatally up to the age of 5. It utilizes a blended home visitation model of Parents As Teachers and Nurturing Parenting. Both are evidence-based early childhood home visitation service delivery models. The model used, and information given, is tailored for the specific family’s needs.

Kars4Kids: Can you tell us how you measure the results of the work you do? What kind of results are you seeing?

Kasey Hammock: First Chance for Children is committed to creating opportunity, changing circumstances, and impacting lifelong outcomes for families. By measuring what families are achieving, we can determine how successful we are in inspiring greatness and supporting growth for our next generation. We use screenings, surveys, and assessments to measure growth and progress.

Our families have growth in their understanding of health and safety issues, and setting and achieving family goals. The children are screened for on track development for kindergarten readiness, and caregivers report feeling more connected to others, and more confident and effective in their parenting.

Kars4Kids: You offer a variety of volunteer opportunities. Can you tell us a bit about them? How many volunteers are currently on staff?

Verena Wilkerson: Our program offers different volunteering opportunities. Volunteering can be done through internships, group teamwork, and other monthly needs. Through internships, volunteers gain valuable knowledge and skills that will help them excel in their career, build expertise in their field, and have a positive impact on our community and change lives. Through group teamwork, volunteers strengthen their relationship to their team and have a meaningful effect on our organization.

Monthly needs volunteers, help with tasks to help our program provide quality experiences for families and greatly increase our ability to serve more families with intentional services using fewer resources. This includes, but is not limited to helping sanitize our Lend and Learn library, diaper wrapping and helping with community diaper drive through events, and book organization.

The number of volunteers participating varies monthly based on available tasks, community events, and needs. At this time we currently have two permanent part-time interns and 40 community volunteers.

Diaper Bank volunteers
Diaper Bank volunteers.

Kars4Kids: How has the pandemic affected your programs?

Kasey Hammock: The pandemic has forced us to be creative and dramatically change the way we work with families. As COVID numbers continue to change, we continue to be responsive to community needs, and innovative in the way we meet our mission and vision.

Kars4Kids: What’s next for First Chance for Children?

Kasey Hammock: We are in the middle of a three-year strategic plan that has three primary priorities:

  1. Cultivate resources to be intentionally accessible and inclusive to all families in the counties we serve.
  2. Build and execute an inclusive, advocacy-centric brand and marketing strategy that educates and informs across all levels of our communities.
  3. Develop a contributed revenue strategy that supports revenue diversification and positions us to grow our programs and supports building healthy financial reserves.

Our vision is that we can continue to grow as mid-Missouri’s best resource for families with children under the age of 5, breaking down barriers and dismantling barriers to success.

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