First Person Singular: America Caballero, 52, Montgomery Village, early intervention specialist, Healthy Families


America Caballero says: “I was a mother myself, and I had support, and I had the education. But I remember having my baby, and there were things I didn’t know how to handle.” (Matt McClain/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)
November 14, 2012

We service first-time moms that live in Montgomery County who present some risk of neglect or abuse to the children. Those who agree to participate receive weekly home visits, and it’s available to them [until] after the fifth birthday of the child.

Initially, you’re uncomfortable. You find issues, like the home is really dirty and disorganized, and you know it’s not appropriate for babies. Or Mom is not doing a good job understanding the baby’s cues. So how do you address that? How do you support them in that without offending them? Because I’m telling them, You’re doing this wrong.

I remember one woman who was severely abused both by Mom and Dad growing up. But for some reason, for her, it was more painful remembering Mom abusing her — physically and verbally. When she had her own baby, she said: “I don’t know what to do when that baby starts crying. The only thing I knew to do was to yell and hit. That’s all I knew. That’s all I saw.” She knew she did not want to do the same thing, but she didn’t know what to do differently. And she was also being victimized by the father of the baby. She was in a very difficult situation. So she called the family support worker and said, “I need help.”

That was almost five years ago, and the child is almost graduating from the program. Not too long ago, [the mother] told me she remembers that time, and she said to me, “Now I see, and I wonder: How can a mother hit this baby when you love them so much?” She was able to stop the cycle of violence. So she’s leaving a new legacy to her baby.

All of these mothers love their children — it’s the very reason they participate in the program. To have a visitor every week in your house, for years, it requires a lot of commitment; it’s a strength for these families. They really want to make a difference. It’s just sometimes they don’t know how, or the only knowledge they have is the way they were raised, and how will they learn?

That’s the reason I’m still here. I was a mother myself, and I had support, and I had the education. But I remember having my baby, and there were things I didn’t know how to handle. So I can imagine a family not having enough support, having been abused as children or having a spouse that is not supportive and facing financial issues. And that’s part of what will help you provide the best services to the family — because you care. No matter what, you’re still human and you will be touched. I guess most of the people that end up doing this type of work, it’s because they find it a rewarding experience. There’s no money, there is nothing, that can take the place of that.

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