I grew up in Queens with very strict parents. They are immigrants from Ecuador and are very “old school.” They had high expectations for me and my two sisters. When I got pregnant at 19, they were devastated. It was very hard for me because I was only in my second year in college, and on top of that, I had my family judging me.
It was the middle of my spring semester, and I ended up on academic probation with a 1.5 GPA. I had been studying to become a social worker, but my low GPA rendered me ineligible for my program. It wasn’t long before I just dropped out.
When my daughter was born, I loved her so much, but I didn’t have the motivation to do much—with her or with myself. I didn’t read to her. I didn’t really play with her. And I didn’t develop a bond with her. For myself, now that I was out of college and had lost eligibility for my program, I didn’t know what direction to take.
My wake-up call came when my daughter was close to two years old. The doctor evaluated her at a well visit and told me what I already knew in my heart: My daughter had a speech delay. She was not saying any words—she was just pointing—and she wasn’t hearing when I called her name. My heart sank as I wondered: What am I doing as a mother for her development?
At that moment, I knew I had to do everything for her that I possibly could. I regretted not doing that sooner, but all I could do was move forward. I enrolled her in Early Intervention services for her speech. I started reading to her. I tried to engage more. But I reached a point I knew I had to do more but didn’t know how.
I looked for help on the Internet and came across The Child Center of NY. I contacted the Woodside Early Head Start program to see if I could enroll my daughter. They were full, but they gave me the number for The Child Center’s Early Head Start program in Astoria, which had spots available. I enrolled her there and found out we also were eligible for the ParentChild+ program, which includes free books and toys and guidance on using them. My daughter was receiving speech therapy at the time, too, and with all this help, I saw her progress right before my eyes.
ParentChild+ has this whole curriculum that makes you confident you’re doing everything possible for your child. We enrolled in March 2020, right when COVID hit, so our visits with our home visitor were virtual. At first I thought, “No baby wants to be just there on a screen,” but it was very helpful. The program includes a parent handbook to check off milestones for every age. I could see that some I could check off and some were not fully checked and I could work on those.
The guidance I got about using the toys and books helped me a lot, especially as a first-time mom and pretty young. I didn’t know any better how to raise a child. It was very difficult. But our home visitor guided me through using the toys and books, explaining the significance of each one. One toy was magnetic blocks with different colors, and another was a shape sorter. I learned to talk to my daughter in ways that would support her development while she was playing, identifying the colors and shapes. She loved the books, too, especially Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed, which exposed her to numbers and counting, and Are You My Mother? She loved learning about the different animals. She still likes those books a lot!
In the beginning, it was hard. My daughter wouldn’t respond; she’d make sounds, but no words. I would speak to her in both languages, English and Spanish, and I grew very concerned that she would have to be in special ed and continue to have problems.
It took a whole year of services, but eventually, one day to another, she just started speaking, saying a couple words and clearly grasping lots of different things.
She’s 3 now. Her last day of speech therapy was just before her third birthday. She’s speaking well in both languages. She’s in a 3K class in preschool and gets along with the other kids and is doing well in all developmental areas. She won’t need special education.
If I hadn’t received these services, I don’t know where I would be. The Child Center helped me with the how.
Now I get to help other families in the same way.
Throughout my college journey, I was always interest in social services or education. When the position of family worker opened up at Early Head Start, Astoria—the program that my daughter and I were enrolled in—I decided to apply. I’d gotten along with everyone here as a parent—everyone is so sweet and friendly!—that I knew I would enjoy being part of the team. Besides my interest in the field of early childhood education, I felt that because I was in the program and struggled so much throughout my motherhood journey with these new things in my life, I could help others. I’m not the only one to go through these struggles. There are a lot of other first-time mothers having even more difficulty than me. That motivated me to where I’m working at now.
As a family worker, I help families who are having needs and connect them with resources, whether that’s cash assistance, physicals, dentals … anything a family might be struggling with. This is important to me, as I got help from the program in this way, too. My family worker helped me with food bags, diapers, wipes … a lot of different things when I needed them most.
I also work with families on goal setting and determining what steps they need to take to achieve their goals. And I work on recruiting, which isn’t hard since I can speak from experience!
As for my personal goals, I’m now back in college. I went from a 1.5 GPA to a 3.2. I pushed myself, did all assignments, studied for midterms and finals, and told myself I have to get at least 3.0—and I did it, thanks to a lot of support that I received.
I’m pursuing a degree in psychology and my goal is to earn my MSW.
In addition to my college classes, I’m taking the Family Development Credential (FDC) program to gain a deeper understanding of my new role.
Working hard with my daughter, I saw the progress at the end. Things didn’t start out the way I would have wanted them to—much like I didn’t intend for my college years to include a 1.5 GPA—but, with hard work and a lot of support, I learned that a rough path still can lead to the goal you were pursuing all along.