Monday, September 29, 2003

High marks: Every Child Succeeds

If you're looking for real life success stories, look no further than the local "Every Child Succeeds'' program. After four years, and 100,000 professional home visits with first-time moms, this Hamilton County model is getting national accolades. It's also piling up personal stories from grateful young women.

For example: Several years ago, Kelly Jackson, pregnant and on her own, was diagnosed with Crohn's disease. She was without a job or place to live when she was referred to Every Child Succeeds (ESC) and one of its trained "home visitors" named Carolyn Sullivan.

Now, Kelly's baby, who'll soon be two years old, is on track developmentally and Kelly has a scholarship to pursue a college degree.

Serving seven counties in Ohio and Kentucky, ECS provides up to three years of personal support to high-risk, first-time mothers and their families to ensure an optimal start for their children. Everything is based on scientific evidence that a nurturing and stimulating environment in the first three years of life is critical to promoting cognitive development, social skill and emotional health.

For example, MaryAnn Whitfield, one of ECS's 106 trained visitors, visits about 25 mom-and-child pairs every month, many for close to three years. She provides them with information about parenting, nutrition, stimulating activities for baby and positive ways to discipline. She provides educational and useful items, including age-appropriate books.

About 5,800 mothers have been served since ECS was founded in 1999 by Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati-Hamilton County Community Action Agency/Head Start and United Way. It's a terrific example of successful community collaboration to help families across the region.

ECS' network of trained home visitors from 17 agencies do the person-to-person contact, and practically all the birthing hospitals and prenatal clinics in the region refer women to the program. Donors and volunteeers make it possible.

It operates on a business model and a remarkable 60/40 public/private funding split. ECS leaders say their sophisticated data collection and results tracking is unparalleled among social service programs nationwide. This research component reflects the organization's commitment to accountability and improvement based on facts, says President Judith Van Ginkel.

A recent evaluation comparing ECS families to similar populations in the United States shows the program resulted in significant improvements in maternal and child health and well-being. More than 91 percent of children in ECS are developing normally, compared to 65 to 84 percent in similar groups without ECS.

As for the young mothers: About 65 percent are in school or working after six months. Depressed moms in ECS improve twice as fast as those in similar populations without ECS. Alcohol and tobacco use during pregnancy is also much lower among ECS moms.

This is a community investment with promising long-term results. A Rand Corp. study contends that every dollar spent on prevention programs like Every Child Succeeds saves $4 in medical costs, special education services and public welfare dependence down the road. Right now, ECS is helping one baby and one family at a time get on track toward social and economic independence.

For more, visit online www.everychildsuccceeds.com or call (513) 636-2830.

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