County awards $330,000 grant to VYFS for home visitation program

Vashon Youth & Family Services will soon expand its services and offer home visits to families with young children, thanks to a large grant from King County’s Best Starts for Kids.

The agency announced it had been selected for the $333,000 two-year grant earlier this month and is working to begin implementing the new initiative by March. Christine Wood, the program manager for VYFS’ Family Place, said for these services, the agency will implement an evidenced-based program called Parents as Teachers (PAT), which can be specifically tailored to a wide range of families and help parents become their child’s “first and best teacher.” Both Wood and VYFS Interim Executive Director Carol Goertzel said they are excited about receiving the grant and the services it will make possible.

“It really expands and enhances what we are able to offer families,” Goertzel said. “We want to be able to offer everything we can to families of young children.”

VYFS is planning to hire a parent educator, who Wood said will connect with families, offer support, provide parent education and resources and conduct child development and basic health screenings on a regular basis. These kinds of home-based services are offered in other parts of King County, Wood said, but because it can be extremely isolating to be a parent of an infant or young children on Vashon, the services are expected to be particularly helpful here.

While the program will be open to all island families, because of grant guidelines, it will serve primarily those with low incomes. However, Wood said that additional families would also be served, including those in which the mother is facing post-partum depression, there is domestic violence or if a parent would simply benefit from additional support. Goertzel stressed that family configuration does not matter.

“We want to be helpful to everybody,” she said.

The program will begin small and take just three families per month until about 34 families are receiving services. Each family will receive two visits a month, with those visits tailored to individual family goals and needs. All services are free.

Wood added that studies have found home-visit services to be helpful in a variety of ways, including that children experience better outcomes both in hitting their developmental milestones and later in school. Parents as Teachers’ website states that more than a dozen studies about its model show parents who are part of the program improve their parenting knowledge and skills and are more involved in their children’s schooling. Also, children enter kindergarten ready to learn; the achievement gap is narrowed, and they have success in elementary school.

Beyond providing home visits, the parent educator will also connect families to important services, including those at VYFS, such as a guided discussion groups for parents, a drop-in playgroup for parents and caregivers and parent education classes.

While this grant is for two years, Goertzel noted that there will be an opportunity to renew the funding and that there are plans to offer the program well beyond the two-year window.

“We hope to do a great job implementing it, and hopefully we will get more money to continue — and expand,” she said.

She noted it is difficult on families when agencies start and stop services — something she hopes to avoid. She added that the agency is committed to offering services so islanders see the agency as a resource for all families.

This is the second Best Starts for Kids grant VYFS has received. The first, awarded in May, provided $100,000 for VYFS’ work with the Vashon Early Learning Coalition, helping preschools and daycares to provide safe environments for children.

The agency has also recently launched a Baby Box program, which provides a large box outfitted with a mattress that serves as a baby bed for the first five to six months. The box also includes a range of materials, including gift cards and coupons for island businesses, a Vashon onesie and parenting books in both English and Spanish. That program is going well, Wood said, and serving two to four families per week.

Looking ahead at VYFS, more changes are in the works. This spring, the agency plans to again offer substance abuse treatment, which it had offered previously but closed in 2014, saying the services were not financially sustainable. Also this spring, Goertzel said that the agency intends to begin offering art classes for people with disabilities to serve them and provide a break for their caregivers. Looking further ahead to summer and fall, Goertzel said the agency is planning to expand its Orca Kids program — new this year for children in fourth through sixth grades— and provide more specialized activities for that age group.

For more information about VYFS and its services, see its website,