When Erin Bonzon stepped into her role as the new administrator for Howard County’s Office of Children and Families this summer, she took over a department that last fiscal year supported more than 7,000 educators and 10,000 parents and families through six programs. A parent herself, she has a 6- and an 8-year-old, and relocated from Washington, D.C.
What are your top priorities with the Office of Children and Families?
We have so many great programs, but I really want to work on aligning our programs and working alongside our partner agencies to help build a comprehensive, early childhood system. And I want people to know all we have to offer and be able to access it. I’m a new resident of Howard County, and [it was difficult] even for me moving here and trying to figure out what was available, or how to get my children into an after-care or a summer-care program.
What are the top challenges your agency faces, and what is the agency doing to address those?
We have a large number of families where English is not a first language, families living in poverty, experiencing health and disability issues. We need to be more responsive to different family structures. We need to be cognizant and aware of unique needs of families so we can link them to the right services and supports.
Your office already provides so many resources to parents: Which one of these will you be focusing on, and will you be launching other initiatives in the near future?
We’ve seen an increase in need to address children’s mental health, and that’s also a priority of County Executive [Calvin] Ball, so our office is working to increase capacity of both parents and early care and education professionals to address mental health
Our office is responding to this need by creating additional training and certification opportunities for professionals in the community to be able to refer, address and treat mental illness.
We are also going to expand our existing programs to serve children at a younger age. We’ve seen an increase in referrals through The Care Center [a program of the office that provides behavioral coaching, training and consultation to parents and care providers in classrooms or child care settings] for younger children, and the needs are more complex and it requires more intense service delivery. We want to be able to support our professionals but also create family supports as well.
The Office of Children and Families will hold its first-ever Family Engagement conference on Nov. 16, designed to give tangible skills and resources to families and parents. For more information visit howardcountymd.gov/children.