Jeff Schnaufer | First 5 LA Writer/Editor

For Perla Montenegro, life is all about adjusting to challenges. When she was 18, her parents were deported, leaving her to take care of her little sister, who was 9 at the time.

She particularly remembers scrambling to find help.

“Imagine the number of resources that were not out there,” she recalled. “That’s the reason I wanted to do this.”

“This” refers to her work as a home visitor, which Montenegro has been doing in the Parents as Teachers program for Shield for Families for the past year-and-a-half.

Providing resources and guidance for parents of young children has been Montenegro’s passion as a home visitor. And with COVID-19, it has never been more challenging. With the help of First 5 LA, the agency began doing televisits through phone calls and online video platforms like Zoom to maintain critical connections to parents during a time of isolation.

“It was tough at first, but doable. Some parents did not have email accounts or Zoom or iPads. A lot of time, I had to help them open email accounts over the phone,” Montenegro said. “Some parents put visits on hold because they had family members at home that they did not want in on the visits.”

When the televisits started, however, Montenegro could see the payoff immediately in the faces of her parents and their children.

“They are happy to share what they are doing with their children,” she said. “The kids are happy to see me. They try to take over the phone.”

Montenegro can relate. With COVID-19 causing her to telework, she created a makeshift “office” in a room in her home. During this interview, in fact, Perla’s 9-month-old son Ryan bounded into the room to climb on and hug his mother. Perla smiled, hugged him back, and shared an appreciation for her husband.

“My husband helps out a lot with Ryan. I wouldn’t be able to do my televisits without him,” she said. “He’s on furlough right now. He says, ‘You’re the only one who is working, so let’s keep this going.’”

The televisits have given Montenegro additional insight into fathers like her husband, who are usually not at home when she goes to visit the mothers at their homes.

“I realized that children act very different when their fathers are home. Children like to share what they can do,” Montenegro said.

During the televisits, some fathers have even engaged in developmental activities with their children.

“It’s nice,” she said. “You can see how close a family is. The fathers are willing to open up to the whole family and that is really rewarding.”

At this point, 23 of Montenegro’s 25 clients are participating in televisits. Besides receiving child development guidance, activities and parenting advice, what are parents asking for?

“A lot of them need resources. If they don’t have food or diapers, we can put in a request and someone delivers it to their doorstep. Or they can apply to CalFresh,” Montenegro said. “But a lot of them just need to connect. A lot of them don’t want me to hang up.”

(Epilogue: Perla’s younger sister, now 24, recently graduated from UCLA.)