Home Visiting: What are your safety plans for once you have entered the home?
Once you have arrived at a parent/family’s place of residence, you still must plan for your safety. Therefore your safety plan is not complete. Careful assessments of the home environment as well as the people and their relational dynamics must be quickly and constantly evaluated for effecting safety and positive outcomes.
The message here is that once you’ve rung that doorbell or knocked on the door, this is the time when keen observational skills are needed to ensure your personal safety and the safety of every member of that household, too. If children are present at the time of your visit, observe their activity, general mood, and take note of the way they communicate with parents. These dynamics are the insights that will be particularly helpful to you at work.
After you have identified yourself at the door, upon entrance, ask if you may take a seat. If not offered a specific seat, ask where you should sit, but try to sit near the front door, close to the exit. Keep your phone and car keys nearby, and easily accessible. This is important to your safety if your initial visit, your introduction to the family. Remember that this is their comfort zone, even if you aren’t very comfortable. What ever you do, do not appear to be uncomfortable, for that will be perceived by the parents and they will be less receptive to you. They, too, will be uncomfortable.
Once a rapport has been established between you, and your familiarity with the family informs you that there is minimal risk associated with this home, some precautions may not be necessary. For good measure, you should develop a general safety routine and stick to it.
Be cautious about accepting any food or drink when visiting homes, and while safety and sanitary practices are appropriate concerns, there is a cultural element to consider. In some cultures, if a guest refuses an offer of food or drink, it may be perceived as disrespectful, which highlights the need for cultural sensitivity.
Overall, go with your gut feelings regarding your own health and safety. In cases where you wish not to offend your host, but do not wish anything from them, be proactive. Think about it ahead of time-just in case. What will you say? Try something like, “I just ate a big lunch.” Add to that statement a gracious ‘Thank you!’.
Also, understand that your job is not to change diapers, even if inclined to do so. I know, babies are adorable! When it comes to pets, whether you are a pet lover doesn’t much matter. Avoid petting their dogs or cats. You don’t know its health status. Politely ask that the family pet be confined.
If you visit a home and a child comes to the door, announce yourself and ask for an adult. DO NOT enter the home, if a child is alone, and particularly under the age of 12. What is most appropriate is that you call 911 or child protective services. Have the child sit close to the door while you remain outside. One never knows what may be misinterpreted should you enter the home with that child. It is inappropriate to do so, and you place yourself at risk for all sorts of allegations of misconduct.
If the child appears frightened, having the child bring a chair to sit by the door allows you to have a calming and reassuring conversation to help him or her feel ‘safe’. Remain there until help arrives, hopefully the parent or relative.
During a home visit, if you happen to see any weapons or drug activity or paraphernalia, or if someone appears to be intoxicated or high, leave the home immediately. Similarly, if you witness any ongoing violence, inappropriate dress, radical changes in behavior, leave immediately.Body language will alert you to a potential for escalation towards aggression and violence. For instance, clenched fists are an indication that it’s best to exit the home. Research the ‘cycle of abuse’ phenomenon.
Verbal abuse may escalate into physical violence, and that is a clear sign that you should leave immediately. Once again, be proactive and respectful. Make an ‘excusable excuse’ for leaving suddenly.
If you suspect there may be cockroaches, fleas or bedbugs in the home, bring very few items with you. Some bugs may get into your belongings and travel with you into your environment. Avoid upholstered furniture. Look for hard furniture/chairs to sit. When you leave, find a safe place, remove your clothes and place them in a sealed plastic bag. Then change into fresh clothes[which should be already in your car trunk]. Take the worn clothes, wash them and then dry them for at least 30 minutes to ensure no organisms survive to infest your environment. Be mindful of lice and scabies. Know how they are spread, and the precautions to take.
The objective of home visiting programs are essentially the same. The aim is family empowerment and partnering-creating alliances to improve outcomes and quality of life for families. In education, home visiting programs are designed to establish trusting, meaningful relationships with parents in order to improve learning outcomes and total wellness of their school-age children.
Ideally, engaging and partnering with parents will ensure that the home and school environments align and support one another. Schools, by actively placing parents in the driver’s seat, as co-pilots, recognize the important influence of parents in their child’s learning process. There is a healthy degree of co-dependence between them, and it enhances capacity for parents to parent and teachers to teach. Together, children are better equipped to learn and grow and develop as they navigate the school system.
Don’t be afraid or overly resistant to change the way teaching was first proposed, when you were preparing for the profession. Education is more child-centered and family-focused in the 21st Century. As instruction is more personalized, educators need a solid grasp on the persons to whom they teach and engage. Debunking stereotypes and altering perceptions through increasing teacher capacity to effectively facilitate academic success among diversely represented learners is critical.
Equally critical is partnering with parents and caregivers to facilitate student achievement. Determined a responsibility of schools and educators at schools, meeting parents where they are now means venturing out into their communities and their homes-comfort zones. Educators, step outside of your comfort zones and welcome parents into the teaching and learning process.
For the most part, visiting the homes of your students will be challenging, but safe and fruitful. All parents want the same thing for their children. As educators, your goals organically align. Collaborate, consult, and confer with parents. Go home! Embarking upon home visits offers you, as educators and agents of change in children’s lives, opportunities to employ the expertise of parents as co-teachers, and maximize your capacity to foster student excellence.
Statistically, 95% of the homes you will visit will not pose any real threats to your safety. With a strengths-based approach, be positive while actively listening and observing more than talking. Invite questions and communicate your genuine interest and desire to facilitate the best learning outcomes for their children in your classroom.
Acknowledge parental importance to the learning process and offer yourself as a resource for helping them help their child successfully navigate the school system. Create sustainable alliances with the people who have the strongest influence on academic achievement and student performance, both in and outside of the classroom. It is in everybody’s best interest to do so.