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Caring for kids and parents, St. Louis day care uses two-generation approach to break cycle of poverty

November 15, 2017
Kristen Taketa
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

ST. LOUIS • The early childhood center where Michon Watson sends her 3-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter has done as much for her as it has for them.

Watson, 21, had no home of her own when she was looking for an early-care provider for her son. She had bad experiences with day care centers where children sat in front of TVs all day.

Then she found SouthSide Early Childhood Center on Jefferson Avenue in the Fox Park neighborhood. She learned that the center offers free services such as health and developmental screenings for children, plus necessities, such as diapers, and classes for parents. And because she qualifies for the federal Head Start program, she could enroll her son there for free. She was sold.

Her children have learned a lot, she says — her son comes home from school singing songs that Watson never knew — but so has she.

SouthSide helped her search for a job. When she was having a bad day, she would vent to SouthSide staff members. SouthSide holds free classes for its parents, classes in which Watson learned skills such as balancing a budget, “things you don’t necessarily learn during school,” she said.

This “two-generational approach” — providing education and social and health services for children and their parents — is a key part of SouthSide’s mission, a double-pronged attack to break the cycle of poverty.

SouthSide is one example of how some early childhood centers are working to close opportunity gaps for low-income families early on and provide care for the whole family.