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Parent Leadership Blog – Monica Gaines

October 20, 2021

Monica Gaines lives in Wayne County, MI with her husband Nathaniel and their son Nate. She began her journey into home visiting in 2013 when she joined the Healthy Families program in Wayne County. She became a parent leader in 2015 when she joined the advisory board and the Local Leadership Group. She went on to also join the State Local Leadership Parent Leader Team. In 2017, Monica was hired as the Healthy Families Program senior program assistant and most recently has also taken on the role of parent coordinator with the Early Childhood Investment Corporation.

The Ripple Effect of Parent Leadership: Its Impact on Lives and Services

It is no secret that when you invest in parents, there is a direct and positive impact not just on their lives but on the lives of many others. When parents’ own cups are filled, they can pour into other people’s cups even better than they could before. Parent leadership has filled my cup in life-changing ways.

My Personal Growth

I started my journey as a young and new parent wondering what to do. I found an amazing support system in the home visiting program supervisor. She pushed for me to join the program advisory group and our Local Leadership Group. I attended the Michigan Home Visiting Conference and watched parent leaders step out of their shells and flawlessly deliver a keynote. I was awed by those parent leaders who have gone on to do so much in their communities and the home visiting system. Many are now working as Local Leadership Group Coordinators, Parent Liaisons, Consultants, and in other roles.

The investment in my leadership by the program supervisor, the LLG Coordinator, the Director of Family and Parent Leadership, and the other parent leaders, combined with watching them in action, gave me the confidence to want to work on my own skills. I was encouraged to present the next year at the same conference. While I was nervous, over the year following that conference I gained so many skills. My leadership and public speaking skills have flourished (though public speaking still isn’t my favorite thing). My champions (our parent leadership model’s term for someone who understands the value of parent leadership and welcomes parents to the table as equal partners) and other parent leaders poured so much into me that some people remember my story and presentation many years later. I am forever grateful for all the training I received as well as the extra support when I didn’t understand or wanted to know more about something.

The Impact of My Growth on Others

It’s not only my life that has changed as a result of my parent leadership journey:

  • While I was developing my passion for early childhood, my husband discovered his passion as well and will soon be launching a daycare.
  • My empowerment has led me to reach back to others through the pipeline of parent leaders to offer support and helped them become the leaders that they need to be for themselves, their families, and their community.
  • As I have become a stronger advocate for my child and other children in my circle, they have gained greater access to the resources they need to be successful in their lives.
  • My work as a parent leader has led to my having seats on boards which has led to better policies for children with special needs.

Parent Leadership’s Impact on Service Improvement

Services have improved across the board because of parent leaders being at the table. For instance, when I suggested that less paperwork go out on the first home visit so greater focus could be put on trust building, the program listened and has experienced greater retention of families because of the initial trust that was built. With direct input from parents, programs have made needed changes so that more families can access the services that they need. Children are receiving more services that better fit their needs and are making major improvements in their growth and development. I am encouraged to share that my son is one of them. When the home visiting program that I was involved in strengthened its relationship with Early On (Michigan’s early intervention program), my son was able to have several professionals all on the same page working to improve his skills. Whereas in the beginning we were told he would always be non-verbal, he is now talking more than anyone else in the family. He has “special powers” but that won’t stop him from achieving and becoming the great man that we know he will become.

A Better Future for Many Starts with Just One Person

Through my work as a parent leader, I have grown my self-confidence, learned to say no to things that don’t work for me, and learned more about discipline and standing my ground on what works for my family. All this, which came from the love poured into me by champions and other parents, has led to the two jobs that I currently hold: Senior Program Assistant at my local Healthy Families America program and Parent Coordinator at the Early Childhood Investment Corporation. The skills that I learned improved my resume which led to my ability to secure employment and better my family’s future. I can attest to all of the things that parent leadership has been to me and am certain that it can be to others as well. All it takes is someone who cares enough to make the first move.

This case study describes Michigan’s parent leadership program model, one that was 30 years in the making. The model, a concept tested over the last eight years, can be replicated within any early childhood system or program.

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