The Power of Personal Experience: Reaching Beyond Numbers to Support Children and Families

Start Early Washington’s Program Analyst Anna Contreras, highlights how relationship-based supports can improve and enrich the home visiting experience for children and families.

May 16, 2023
  • Family Engagement
  • Innovation
  • Professional Development
  • Blog

As the program analyst for Start Early Washington, Anna Contreras is always thinking about what works best to support the children and families that participate in Washington’s home visiting programs. She collects and analyzes a mixture of quantitative raw data as well as the often-overlooked qualitative feedback needed to truly improve and enrich the home visiting experience for children and families. This includes collating information gathered from numerous home visiting professionals across the state.

Anna has dedicated her professional career to understanding how relationship-based supports impact lifelong outcomes for young children and their families. She’s particularly interested in families grappling with adversities, such as migrant and seasonal farmworkers, immigrant communities and dual language learners. “My Latinx background not only identifies me but defines me. As a second-generation immigrant, I relate to the challenges of those who are growing and learning from their native culture while also adjusting to new societal norms and navigating American culture.”

Anna and her mother reading together
Anna (7 yrs) and her mom love to read books from their local library.

Anna’s commitment to improving the home visiting experience and creating more equitable and inclusive systems that recognize and respect diversity begins with her mother. Home visiting has been part of Anna’s life since the day she was born. Anna’s mother received home visiting services in Washington state when she was pregnant with Anna, a support that was not provided for Anna’s siblings. Because of this experience, her mother was better connected to her community’s resources and felt more comfortable talking through the various roadblocks she was experiencing. In addition, her home visitor helped her better understand the services and supports available to her. They were a trusted partner to nurture and support Anna’s healthy development. This was especially important to Anna’s mother because she didn’t have her mom (Anna’s abuela) near at the time.

Recalling her personal experiences and her experience helping her parents navigate data collection and other complex information, Anna finds it essential to create inclusive forms and dashboards for the home visiting support team.

“I always ask, what would make the most sense for the person using this tool? Interpretation is everchanging, and you must make space to understand where others are coming from.” — Anna

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Anna also shared the importance of considering the impact on the person collecting information. “When creating forms, we consider the impact on the staff asking the questions — such as, what does the answer mean for the respondent? How is this information going to be utilized? What are the unintended consequences for the person sharing the information? People must feel comfortable enough to share this information. They also want to ensure that necessary changes will follow and that they are not wasting their time answering another set of questions; it is hard to be vulnerable, especially when you are unsure of what will happen next with the information provided.”

Whether it’s a first-time parent connecting with a home visitor or staff sharing their experiences with each other, trust and respect are vital to collecting meaningful information. Relationship-building is foundational to Start Early Washington’s work and a key ingredient to affecting meaningful change.

“As a first-generation college student, relationship-building was important to me. Feeling seen and heard was fundamental to my growth and development, and therefore I carry that experience in my work today.” Feeling accepted, safe and connected to a community of support helped push Anna past moments of self-doubt and projected her toward future success in her home life, career and beyond.

The Subtle Differences

Data showcasing the subtle differences in home visiting provider experiences and the depth of variation between the family dynamics they support helps inform the resources and learning opportunities needed for the home visiting field as well as the various elements required to support the children and families they partner with. In addition, such data-driven insights are vital to maintaining an inclusive and collaborative decision-making process for system improvements.

Anna primarily works with Start Early Washington’s home visiting team to improve home visiting services and outcomes for children and their families in Washington state. Anna works closely with the home visiting team to assess customized coaching and mentoring offered to home visiting programs. Similarly, she evaluates how Start Early Washington can best support comprehensive learning opportunities, transparent data collection and thoughtful analysis.

For example, surveys are designed to answer questions such as: Does the home visiting field have the professional development opportunities they need to grow their skills? What additional support is needed for home visitors to feel confident in their role? How can Start Early Washington help home visiting professionals achieve individual and programmatic goals? These questions and more help to ultimately measure how we can support positive system changes —such as gains in knowledge, better time management, improved staff retention and the creation of better family engagement protocols.

Qualitative feedback helps Anna understand the story of home visiting in our state, connecting the necessary data points to improve system outcomes and inform policymakers. Data allows us to see how and when priorities shift for programs, and feedback and discussion help us understand what success and challenges look like for home visiting programs and the families they work with. Qualitative feedback from our home visiting team helps uncover trends in discussions, typically hidden among quantitative numbers alone. This data complements ongoing performance monitoring to ensure continuous quality improvement for home visiting professionals statewide.

Anna’s work strengthens home visiting programs by showcasing the power of relationship-based work, reinforcing the deep connections and trust between home visitors and families. Recognizing the unique identities, heritages, cultures and human emotions while celebrating differences and bolstering representation validates and supports an environment of inclusion for the entire home visiting system.

Trust Is Pivotal

While data is critical to support a high-quality system, trust is pivotal to accessing quality information and rich feedback. Some things for home visiting teams to consider when collecting data:

  • Use simplified language; the frame of information is important.
  • Are questions clear enough to capture the needed information?
  • Do all parties understand how the data collected will inform the home visiting system?
  • Does the reader understand their rights and role in responding to the questions?

Co-Creative Learning Opportunities for Home Visiting Professionals

Start Early Washington facilitates learning opportunities as well as unstructured co-creative opportunities for home visiting professionals statewide to build knowledge, seek mentorship, connect and decompress with others in the field experiencing similar situations. Together, they work through obstacles and celebrate successes; since 2020, Start Early Washington’s work has reached nearly 8,235 children and families. Our approach to supporting the home visiting field includes mindfulness practices, reflection, sharing experiences and knowledge that builds trust in a strengths-based learning environment.