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County program aids new parents with child-rearing

"Island County health officials have proposed a new family development program to address some of the area's most pressing problems.The county Health Department is awaiting a federal grant to fund the Healthy Island County Children Using Prevention Services Project, or HICCUPS, designed to promote early childhood care and improve family interaction.A grant application for the project was submitted this month. If approved, the program would likely begin early next year.Health Director Tim McDonald said HICCUPS addresses the issues surrounding youth and youth violence, determined by a recent study to be the regional community's two greatest concerns. This is a program where the community can actually do something about the issues, he said.McDonald said everyone is seized when they hear news reports about the latest school shooting ... we all wonder what we're going to do. The long-term goal of HICCUPS is to avert the beginnings of violent behavior.HICCUPS will deal with community violence ... at birth, said McDonald.The program received an initial $96,000 from the county last year for a full-time nurse and staff assistant, who helped develop the blueprint for the intervention plan. The grant application requested $400,000 annually for the next three years.The design for HICCUPS is based largely on the research of David Olds, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center who determined a person's physiological and emotional health are greatly affected by their early childhood. He also discovered that increased nursing visits during childhood significantly improved the development of children belonging to families identified as dysfunctional or overburdened.The health department defines an overburdened family as one that experiences stresses caused by poverty and unemployment, domestic violence, substance abuse, mental illness or criminal behavior by a family member.Results from Olds' study, published in 1998, suggested that adolescents of mothers who received nurse visits during pregnancy and their children's first two years reported fewer problem behaviors through their lives. Compared with the children of similar families who were not visited by nurses, there were considerable drops in the incidences of running away, arrests, convictions and probation violations.The adolescents in the study group also reported they had fewer sex partners, smoked fewer cigarettes per day and consumed less alcohol over a six-month period.The study concluded for every dollar spent on a child during early childhood, society would save $4 otherwise spent dealing with that individual's future problems.Carol McNeil, Island County's director of public nursing, said HICCUPS will extend nursing visits to about 60 families. The program, she explained, will do its best to wrap around families.In Island County, it's estimated that 12 percent of all children between infancy and age 5 live below the poverty line and one-third of all children live in homes where the income is less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Meanwhile, the county infant mortality rate, reported at 9.2 for every 1,000 live births between 1991-95, is higher than the overall state average of 6.5. As well, the number of cases of child abuse and neglect in Island County are larger than state and national averages. In 1998, there were 1,348 child abuse reports received by the state Division of Child and Family Services in Oak Harbor. That same year, a study by the Skagit/Island County Head Start program found many young mothers of infants and children up to age 4 felt isolated, have no one to talk to and find parenting overwhelming.When the program is implemented, health workers will contact every new family in the county. About 1,000 births are reported throughout the region each year. Families will go through an initial needs assessment.Based on the assessment, health officials will then determine which families qualify for HICCUPS.McDonald said participation in the assessment and program will be voluntarily. Then again, he said, he couldn't understand why any new parent would not want to participate in the program.When you get your children, you want a lot of help, you want to reach out and get the most information possible, McDonald said. Even the most hardened biker-like guy, when he's holding a baby, is open to new ideas. That's a teachable moment.McDonald speculated that child-rearing has become increasingly difficult for contemporary parent because many of the cultural lessons for developing healthy families have been lost. County Health Officer Dr. Roger Case said from what he's seen health-care providers and parents alike are excited about HICCUPS. He concurred with McDonald that parents, with few exceptions, welcome new child-rearing approaches and a clearer understanding of what works and what doesn't.Case, who also serves on the Whidbey General Hospital board, said the community generally seems to understand the importance of raising children - and how HICCUPS can benefit that effort.We're building bridges of understanding, he said.Whidbey Island children*In Island County, it is estimated that 12 percent of all children through age 5 live below the poverty line and one-third of all children live in homes where the income is less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. *Island County's infant mortality rate was 9.2 for every 1,000 live births between 1991-95, higher the state average of 6.5.*Cases of child abuse and neglect in Island County are higher than state and national averages. In 1998, there were 1,348 child abuse reports received by the state Division of Child and Family Services. Of those, 450 were investigated.*During that same time, 158 children were placed in out-of-home care and 428 were considered at risk of abuse and neglect.*Of children placed out-of-home, 25 percent were found to have been sexually abused, 10 percent physically abused, 64 percent were physically neglected, and 1 percent were medically neglected.Source: Island County Health Department "

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