Story, photo by Dale M. King
BOCA RATON – Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every child born in Palm Beach County could enter this world healthy, and look forward to a safe upbringing, free from developmental maladies and ready for schooling at the appropriate time?
Healthy Beginnings, a program created in July 2009 by the Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County and run by Home Safe Inc., has hospital liaisons at all medical centers in the county with maternity wards. “They go to the hospital every day to screen all the mothers for risk factors,” said Paloma Prata, director of prevention services and head of the Healthy Beginnings program. A liaison is assigned to Boca Raton Regional Hospital, West Boca Medical Center and seven others.
Prata said Healthy Beginnings is a voluntary program. Participation is not mandated. But during a recent quarter, she said, Home Safe’s hospital liaisons screened 96 percent of all mothers who delivered babies in the county. She praised the liaisons for their “diligence and professionalism.”
Often, the liaison receives information from outreach agencies, pediatricians and families in subsidized homes that certain mothers or newborns may need special screenings. Families with concerns about how their young children are growing can ask for help to determine if children are behaving, developing and learning at the same rate as others their own age.
In addition, Home Safe can evaluate whether mothers of newborns are struggling from sadness, moodiness or other emotional complications following the birth of their baby.
Evaluation can begin right in the hospital room, said Prata. “The liaison can help determine if the mother may benefit from any Healthy Beginnings services to assist her in adjusting to her new role.”
The Children’s Services Council has set three goals for the program, said Prata: healthy births, freedom from child abuse and readiness for school.
“As the entry agency for children between the ages of 0 and 5, Home Safe is responsible for providing assessment, navigation and referral services to children and families in Palm Beach County,” she said. “Each year, Home Safe serves over 14,000 newborns to 5-year-olds, as well as their parents.”
All services are free, she said.
Benefits of the program include meetings with a developmental consultant to discuss any family concerns. “Depending on their needs, families may be referred to other Healthy Beginnings programs designed to help them raise healthy, successful children,” said Prata. The developmental consultant provides one home visit to complete any screens or assessments, and will contact mothers by phone to explain the results and offer any needed services.
In Palm Beach County, visits can be made to the home, to health department clinics, at local schools and in other community locations.
Among programs offered are access to medical care, nutrition information and counseling, breastfeeding education and support, home visits, help to quit smoking, parent-child bonding, parent education, child-development screening, stress management counseling and links to other services.
Prata has extensive experience as a liaison, having worked as one at Bethesda Memorial Hospital for nine years. She came to Home Safe two years ago.
Home Safe’s marketing staff promotes Healthy Beginnings. Michael Boro, who studied marketing and worked with non-profits, is its marketing coordinator.
For information, contact Paloma Prata at 561-383-9800, extension 1702 or via email at PalomaPrata@HelpHomeSafe.org.