Providence Talks, an innovative program designed to close the “word gap” and improve the language development of Providence’s youngest residents will expand its services beginning October 5th. Under the leadership of Mayor Jorge Elorza, Providence Talks will expand beyond the pilot with a goal of serving 750 families in the next year and 2,500 families in the next two years.
“I look forward to supporting the expansion of Providence Talks across the City so we can ensure that children are prepared to succeed when they first arrive to school. Programs like this, that engage parents and caregivers in their child’s future academic success, are positioned to play critical roles as we build strong school communities in Providence,” said Mayor Elorza, who has been a strong supporter of Providence Talks since taking office.
Providence Talks helps parents talk more to their children at the time when language development is most critical, according to brain development science. In both the pilot and during city-wide expansion, the program uses a new technology from the LENA Research Foundation that measures the number of words that children are hearing and the amount of parent-child interactions that are taking place in the home.
Providence Talks was developed during Bloomberg Philanthropies’ 2013 Mayors Challenge. The Mayors Challenge is an ideas competition that encourages cities to generate innovative ideas that solve major challenges and improve city life -and that have the potential to spread to other cities. The City of Providence was the grand prize winner of the challenge and received $5 million to implement the initiative. According to James Anderson, head of Government Innovation at Bloomberg Philanthropies, “The City of Providence won our very first Mayors Challenge with a distinctive, imaginative approach to help its youngest residents succeed in kindergarten–and beyond. We’re excited to see Mayor Elorza and his Providence Talks team expand their footprint and continue to strengthen the program’s approach to help parents close the ‘word gap.'”
The City also released key learnings from its pilot program. The pilot, which launched in 2014, enrolled more than 175 families in a comprehensive coaching curriculum for parents, including home coaching visits by trained staff and a new technology capable of measuring how much parents and caregivers are talking to and interacting with their children. Highlights include:
- There is a big need in Providence. More than half (54%) of the children who enrolled started the program hearing far fewer words than they need for healthy brain development. The average was 8,000 words a day, just over half of what’s recommended.
- Parents are talking to their children more. The 120 families who completed four or more coaching sessions increased the number of words spoken in the home by an average of 1,191 words. For the sixty-five families who started below the 50th percentile, that increase was even larger. They heard 50% (4,222) more words.
- Parents like the program. Providence Talks survey respondents had a 97% overall satisfaction rate for the program. The same 97% would recommend the program to a family member or friend.
“We are encouraged by these early results which show that Providence Talks can have an impact for families and children that need it the most,” said Courtney Hawkins, Executive Director of Providence Talks. “We are now ready to take the lessons learned from our pilot phase to the next level, as we expand Providence Talks to more families in the city.”
To mark the citywide expansion of the program, Providence Talks is partnering with the Brown University School of Urban Education Policy to host a Policy Forum (October 5th, 6:30 PM to 8:00 PM, Brown University, Petteruti Lounge , Robert Center, Providence, RI 02912). The Forum will bring together experts and leaders in the fields of Education, Science and Public Policy to further examine how early intervention approaches like Providence Talks can help cities across the United States better prepare young children for school. The event will feature Dr. Dana Suskind, who is both founder and director of the Thirty Million Words Initiative, which is based on scientific research that demonstrates the critical importance of early language exposure on the developing child.
The Policy Forum will also recognize Providence Talks’ high quality non-profit partners -Children’s Friend, Family Service of Rhode Island, Federal Hill House and Meeting Street -whose deep community relationships are critical to the success of the program.
For more information about Providence Talks visit www.providencetalks.org and to sign-up call 1-844-401-TALK.