Building bonds: one family’s story

As the optimism of the new year approaches, it is appropriate that we consider the plight of many of our struggling neighbors. In that spirit, I worked recently with Marcy J. Gallegos, a  principal producer and agency broker with Insured by Gallegos of  Hillsboro, OR, to craft a column about a local pregnancy support and parenting education program. I’d like to share that column with you.

Building bonds: one family’s story, By Marcy J. Gallegos

“The family is one of nature’s masterpieces,” said the philosopher, George Santayana. That’s a thought that resonates during the Christmas season.

But like any masterpiece, families must be nurtured, kept healthy and protected from harm if they are to endure.

Rosa Sime-Reyes, 33, grew up in the Dominican Republic and came to the United States with her daughter, Emily, five years ago, following her husband, Emilio who had come two years earlier. The couple now have two more daughters, Lorraine, 3, and Kristen, 6 months and have been renting a modest one-level house on a quiet cul-de-sac in Tualatin.

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Rosa Sime-Reyes (Center) with two of her children, Lorraine (L) and Kristen (R)

While pregnant with Kristen and taking English classes at Tualatin Library, Sime-Reyes learned a program called Opening Doors might be able to help her get health insurance.

Opening Doors, part of Community Action’s Healthy Families program, is a free program that connects low-income pregnant women with services to help them have healthy babies. One of its services is expediting enrollment in the Oregon Health Plan, the state’s Medicaid program that provides health care coverage for low-income Oregonians. As an insurance broker who handles Medicaid, Medicare and private insurance, I understand how important it is to help vulnerable pregnant women access health care as early as possible.

For Sime-Reyes, signing up for the Oregon Health Plan was quick and easy. She simply explained her family situation over the phone to Opening Doors staff and her application for coverage was accepted.

Healthy Families followed up by guiding Sime-Reyes through her pregnancy, finding a lactation group in Hillsboro and a baby care group in Tualatin for her to join, providing some children’s clothing and diapers and connecting her with a home visitor to help her family thrive.

Healthy Families is both a pregnancy support and parenting education program. It helps pregnant women get pre-natal support and then build strong parent-child interaction and attachment.

Many of the women Healthy Families serves come to the organization’s attention because screeners talk with them in a Washington County hospital after they give birth. If a woman qualifies, the screener alerts Healthy Families. A staff member contacts the woman, explains Healthy Families’ services and offers to help.

Healthy Families’ 11 home visitors build strong relationships with families under their care. For the first six months a home visitor goes to a home once a week. If the family finds employment and a stable place to live, is able to deal with money and health issues, and enjoys decent interactions with their children, the home visitor shifts to twice a month until the new child turns two. After that, visits occur once a month until the child is three.

“Studies show that this investment in children age 0-3 is huge in its payoff long term,” said Beth Dasher, Healthy Families’ program manager in Washington County. “We are making real changes in people’s lives and in the community at large because these children will be more stable and attached and will have tools to draw from when it gets difficult down the road.”

Home visitors are guided by a curriculum, “Growing Great Kids,” which teaches home safety, child discipline, ways to promote positive communications with children and how to break negative cyclical behaviors from their own childhood. “We talk a lot about the parent’s own history, what behaviors they would like to continue, what they would like to stop,” said Dasher.

“The goals are really up to the client,” said Dasher. “What’s really important is the process of learning how to set a goal, how to take steps toward it, how to achieve it, what it takes to be successful.”

What about Sime-Reyes’ goals? “I have so many goals,” she said. “My first goal is to get my U.S. citizenship. That’s why I’m learning English. I also want to be able to take time for my friends, my daughters and my husband. And I want to work outside my home.”

 

Availability of affordable, quality child care can clear a path out of poverty

This week the U.S. Census Bureau released comprehensive reports on nationwide and state poverty in 2013. There are a lot of almost mind-numbing numbers in the reports, but behind those numbers are millions of Americans struggling with poverty that infects their lives 24 hours a day and shapes their future.

The Census Bureau reports reveal that the poverty rate for Oregon improved somewhat from 17.2 percent in 2012 to 16.7 percent in 2013, but remains stubbornly high. One way to reduce it further is to ensure that quality, affordable child care is available to low-income families.

Holding tight, a child grins as she enjoys being pushed on a swing by Jan McIntosh at Good Apple Child Care Preschool in Hillsboro. What a treat.

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But for this child’s low-income parents, and many other low-income Washington County residents who want to work and want the best for their children, it can be tough to access affordable, quality child care.

But child care is essential to help low-income people climb out of poverty and children who don’t get a good start often enter kindergarten behind and stay behind throughout their schooling.

It’s in the community’s best interest to provide a strong foundation for all children to develop into well-educated adults ready to participate in the work force and keep our economy strong. It’s also in the community’s interest to facilitate work by adults because work builds self-esteem and creates self-sufficiency.

One Oregon program that helps make work possible is the Employment Related Day Care program run by the state’s Department of Human Services (DHS). It provides financial assistance to help eligible low-income working families pay for child care, enabling parents to stay employed and children to be well cared for in stable child care arrangements.

The program helps approximately 20,000 Oregon families every year pay for child care for about 35,000 children.

About half the children who attended Good Apple Child Care Preschool in Hillsboro this summer were being helped by the program.

The preschool’s owners, Jan and James McIntosh, operate out of their 1,200 square foot home with its half-acre backyard playground.

If a child wants to enjoy arts and crafts, hike through Jackson Bottom Wetlands, take a field trip to the Enchanted Forest, get introduced to reading and music, or dunk her feet in poster paint and make footprints on poster paper, Good Apple’s the place to be.

The 16 boisterous children there this summer ranged from 6 months to 9 years of age; that switches to children 6 months to 5 years of age when school starts. The children are overseen by between three to six staff members, depending on the activities under way.

The nonprofit Community Action organization, which works to eliminate conditions of poverty and create opportunities for people and communities to thrive, helped Good Apple succeed.

“We were hooked up early on with Jan Alvarez, a child care specialist at Community Action of Washington County, and she has been awesome,” said Jan McIntosh. “She’s encouraged us to take the steps to get our certification, get nationally accredited and then participate in Oregon’s Quality Rating Improvement System (QRIS), which aims to raise the bar on quality child care and prepare children for kindergarten.”

Community Action also educates low-income working families about child care options, such as home-based programs and child care centers, and offers a broad range of face to face and online training classes in English and Spanish to child care operators and staff, such as first aid and CPR and child abuse and neglect training.

Karen Henkemeyer, who manages the child care program at Community Action, said some low-income families also find that providing child care can help lift them out of poverty while allowing them to stay close to their own children.

Child care providers throughout Washington County are striving to make a difference for low-income children and their parents. It’s critical that we support efforts to provide a full range of affordable, high quality child care if the county and all of its residents are to prosper.

For more information about child care-related programs in Washington County, call Community Action at 971-223-6100 or visit its website, caowash.org/ccrr.