By Steve Hansen
QCS Managing Editor
As a first step in improving Quay County’s last-place position among New Mexico counties in child well-being, a home visitation program now offers assistance to parents-to-be and parents of children up to age 3 who want help and advice to keep children healthy and safe and prepare them for success in school.
The program is the product of more than a year’s planning by local, regional and state health, public health and community leaders, spearheaded by the New Mexico Children Youth and Families Department.
Lola McVey, a Tucumcari counselor, is the new program’s director. She will also serve as a home visitation counselor, along with Shannon Arellano, a counselor who has experience with Teambuilders Counseling Services, among others. Arellano will undergo specialized training next month before officially starting her duties.
Parents As Teachers, a national home visitation organization based in St. Louis, Mo., is providing curriculum, training and a research-based set of standards for the home visitation program, according to Alida Brown, coordinator of the Quay County Health Council, who has been at the center of the home visitation organizing effort.
The home visitation program seeks five outcomes from its encounters with new parents and caregivers, McVey said. These include: Babies are born healthy, children are nurtured by their parents and caregivers, children are physically and mentally healthy and ready for school, children and families are safe, and families are connected to formal and informal supports in their communities.
At its start, McVey said, the home visitation will target teen parents and young parents who are expecting their first child, although any expecting parent or parent of a child under 3 years old is welcome to participate.
“We’ll help give them support and knowledge to be good parents,” McVey said. “It’s important to keep the child-parent connection strong in those very early years. We’ll try to help with that, as well.”
The home visitation counselors may also help parents keep tabs on their children’s development.
“We can do some screenings,” McVey said, “and if we find that a child is not as strong as he or she should be in some areas, we can offer information about community resources that can help.”
At the same time, however, she said, “We don’t want to come in as if we have all the answers. We want to support parents in the decisions they make and empower them to be good parents.”
McVey is actively generating referrals to the program by placing literature in gathering places and making contact with physicians, counselors, school officials and others likely to make contact with young parents. The first contact with a client, however, must come from a parent or caregiver to ensure that participation is voluntary.
The Health Council’s Brown said, “Research in the neural sciences has shown repeatedly the importance of strong parent-child bonds early in life.”
Proper health care and emotional and mental stimulation in the first five years has been shown to result in better health and improved attitudes toward education later in life, which results in reduced health-care costs in later years, Brown said.
Quay’s operations will be financed for four years at $250,000 a year through federal funds and CYFD’s Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visitation program, Jesse Leinfelder, CYFD’s manager of home visitation programs, said. Presbyterian Medical Services received the grant award to operate the program.
Quay County’s record of teen mothers, low-birth-weight babies, infant mortality and child abuse claims placed it at the top of CYFD’s list of “early childhood investment zones,” which triggered the planning for the home visitation program, Lienfelder said. These zones were designated under preventive health components of the federal Affordable Care Act.
These zones have “high risk factors and not a lot of services” that can help young children avoid hazards to health and barriers to school readiness, Leinfelder said.
Quay County’s home visitation program will be housed in the Presbyterian’s Quay County Family Health Center, 1302 E. Main St. Tucumcari.
The program may be reached by calling (575) 461-7964.