Providing Basin Children a Healthy Start
April 13th, 2008
Reprinted with permission, Herald and News, Klamath Falls
By: Lee Beach
Michelle Ferdick was 15 when she gave birth to Dominick, and she had no family or friends to help her.
Then she met Abbie McClung, a family support visitor for the Healthy Start Program. McClung became Ferdick's mentor through the program, which helped her find an apartment for a year while she worked at an alternative school.
"Abbie was there for me to talk to about my baby and about my life situation," Ferdick said.
When Dominick failed to thrive, McClung put Ferdick in touch with a physician who diagnosed and treated a urinary tract infection. He is now a happy, active, healthy 2-year-old.
Healthy Start is for first time, and often single, parents like Ferdick, who need support after the birth of a child. The program is based at Klamath Youth Development Center.
Now 18, Ferdick spent two years in the program before moving from Klamath Falls to a home for teen parents in Medford.
There she lives with five other mothers and their babies, and they help each other. With a welfare check, she pays $145 a month to stay there.
"I'm going to high school to get my GED, and I plan to go on to a university to study criminal justice and psychology," she said in a phone interview. "There is a day care at the high school, so he's going to school when I'm going to school."
She uses public transportation to get to school. Though one of the housemothers at the teen home also is a Healthy Start worker, Ferdick's ties remain with McClung.
"I talk to Abbie to update her on what I'm doing, and sometimes we get together and have lunch," she said.
The goal of Healthy Start is to increase the number of children who are ready for school and to reduce child abuse and neglect by improving parenting skills, enhancing family functioning and increasing families' connections with other resources.
"The basic workflow of Healthy Start is that we screen all first-birth parents at Sky Lakes before their discharge," McClung said. "They receive information on infant brain development, what to expect when they get home, and referrals to community resources."
"If they screen positive for stress factors (single parent, low income, teen parent, substance abuse, depression or mental health challenges), we offer free and voluntary visiting service in the home."
Community Baby Shower
Soroptimists began supporting the Healthy Start program three years ago, after a member brought the idea to the group through its service committee. Since then, the group has hosted the annual "shower."
A community baby shower is a regional project," said Nancy Dey, president. "Chapters can choose to do this type of project, and it's very positive, a feel-good effort. It fits our goal of doing what's best for women and children."
Val Paulson has worked on the project all three years, and she explained how it works and how it has grown.
We do a Saturday of Service, once a year, the first Saturday in March. We put out fliers in advance, posting them around the community and giving them to Soroptimist members. We set up at the Community Lounge from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and anyone and any group can drop in donations."
Last year, the community baby shower items donated were valued at $2,500, and this year, at $4, 675. They included baby clothes, diapers, wipes, socks, hats, booties and receiving handmade blankets.
"These items go to new parents who may not even have a blanket to bring their baby home in," Paulson said.
Start of the Program
The Healthy Start program was launched in 1992 by Prevent Child Abuse America, in partnership with Ronald McDonald House Charities.
It was designed to promote positive parenting, enhance child health and development and prevent child abuse and neglect. The Freddie Mac foundation was also instrumental in ongoing development of the program.