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Reading 2gether program helps connect foster kids and birth parents through senses

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Posted at 9:58 PM, Mar 31, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-02 12:00:58-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Reading 2gether is building relationships one book at a time and it just launched in Southern Arizona. The purpose of the program is to strengthen the relationship between biological parent and their kid in the foster care system.

Jillian Aja is an attorney with the Office of Children’s Counsel, she says, “I think kids and reading, it kind of sells itself.”

Aja was in charge of submitting the project proposal for approval from the county.

Superior Court Judge, Joan Wagener says, “it combines two of the most vital things for children. That is early childhood literacy and bonding and attachment.”

It’s something personal attorney Stephanie Rascher says will go a long way. “the primary thing I hear over and over again is, “how can I have more time with my children?” this is a voluntary program for them to do that.”

Tasha Gamez the Department of Child Services Outreach Coordinator says, “this program the referrals will come directly to me.”

Once a case gets the approval from Gamez, they will be able to participate in Reading 2gether.

Judge Wagener explains how it works. She says, “We have two bags, one provided to the parents and one will be provided to the placement. Both of the bags will contain two books, they will be the same books.”

Parents are then asked to sleep with the blanket. Judge Wagener says, “parents impart their scent to it and then the blanket goes to the placement.” From there, Judge Wagener says, “we’re going to ask the placement to swaddle the baby in the blanket that has the parents' scent imparted to it.”

Reading 2gether is a commitment of two times a week for 10 to 15 minutes. The biological parent and the placement parent plan a time for the biological parent to read the books to the kids over the phone. This is as the kids cuddle the blanket that the biological parent once slept with.

The program had a number of departments involved to make it possible. Through the planning process, extensive research was conducted and found that bonding and attachment require multiple senses.

Judge Wagener says the program reaches a number of senses, “scent from the blanket, vision from looking at the book, and auditory from the parents in a soothing, calming voice reading to the children.”

The program is still new to the county which is why it is only available for newborns to 5-year-olds.

But program leaders are hopeful that will change. Aja says, “if it’s successful hopefully we can expand it to older kids as well.”

While Judge Wagener adds, “we will have 8-year-olds reading with their moms and dads because they need that ongoing meaningful contact with their parents as well.”

The blankets were donated by the local organization AVIVA Children’s Services and as of Monday, the first set of bags were distributed to families that qualified for the program.

Heidi Alagha is an anchor and reporter for KGUN 9. Heidi spent 5 years as the morning anchor in Waco where she was named the best anchor team by the Texas Associated Press. Share your story ideas and important issues with Heidi by emailing or by connecting on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.