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A Healthy Start mom with her two sons
On October 1, state funding for the Prevention Pilot Project in Michigan was unexpectedly cut from 11 service agencies in Grand Rapids, Flint and metro Detroit. These agencies had been responsible for reducing caseloads for Child Protective Services and helping families by offering supportive home visits, counseling, and parenting education in an effort to prevent families from becoming part of the child welfare system.
Kent County Healthy Start, a program provided by local nonprofit Family Futures in partnership with Arbor Circle and Catholic Charities West Michigan, is one of the programs affected by this cut. Healthy Start works with parents of infants who are facing the challenges and joys a new baby brings. Healthy Start provides them with extra support and encouragement during their baby’s early years. Because of the funding cuts by the State Prevention Pilot, Healthy Start will lose capacity to serve 75 families in need of assistance as well as three staff members. Because of these capacity/staffing cuts, families who desire services by Healthy Start’s home visiting component will likely go on a waiting list.
Healthy Start had been so impactful to these families because of the comprehensive and individualized support it provided. The workers respond to each family's needs in a way that suits them best, using home visits and phone calls along with developmental screening and links to local resources.
“It provides an extra dose of support at a time that is really critical to a baby and the parent,” said Healthy Start coordinator Brandi Alexander.
For parents, having a baby can bring change to their lifestyle and sometimes getting used to that change adds stress.
“When a parent is feeling stressed, the baby can sense it. This can increase the stress hormones in the baby as well, which can affect healthy brain development”, Alexander said.
Which is why a program like Healthy Start is so important.
Healthy Start teaches parents that the impact they have on their baby now will shape their future. Family Support Workers show parents how to play and bond with their baby and emphasize that they are their baby’s best teacher. Alexander noted that, “Babies learn more during their first five years than any other time… These years are super crucial”. How a parent interacts with their child now plays a major role in how their child will grow later on.
Investing in Healthy Start is important because if we work on prevention now, then we won’t have to pay for intervention later. Many Healthy Start families are facing challenges like unemployment, poverty, single parenting, etc. The cost for one family to receive Healthy Start home visiting services is about $2,650 for one year, compared to the average cost of the lowest-rank Child Protective Service case which is about $16,630, or the highest-level cases which have an average cost of $143,080 with police services, counseling, etc (according to a 2010 SRA Evaluation of Child Protective Services in Michigan). This cut not only affects the community and Healthy Start, it affects our economy. It's a cut to a program that works.
Family Futures is working to find other funding to serve as many families as financially possible with Healthy Start, seeking support from individual donors and applying for available grants.
"I just think it's an awesome program and that it should never be given up," a recent Healthy Start mom said. "It helped me immensely in the five and a half months that I've had my daughter. I really don't know if I would be as knowledgeable without my family support worker."
Family Futures believes every child deserves a chance to thrive. It all starts by building strong families – and that’s what our services do. Through parent coaching, education and prevention-based programming, we are impacting the community now and for years to come.