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Making a promise to educate new parents

Jayne Matthews Hopson | 11/8/2013, 6 a.m.
Getting ready for the arrival of a new baby can cost families hundreds, perhaps thousands of dollars.

Getting ready for the arrival of a new baby can cost families hundreds, perhaps thousands of dollars. For low-income parents the financial burden can feel overwhelming. However, the most important gift a newborn may receive won’t break the bank. Just ask a group of West Baltimore moms who have learned that seeking prenatal care is a priceless investment in a happier, healthier future for their babies.

Prenatal care is essential for the good health of both the mother and child, from the moment the pregnancy is confirmed to the birth of the baby. This is particularly true for poor and minority infants. “The earlier children who reside in low-income communities start high quality child care the better the outcomes,” says Bronwyn Mayden, executive director, Promise University.

Promise University is a University of Maryland School of Social Work initiative founded on the belief that healthy children and healthy communities can be built through a continuum of care beginning with B’more for Healthy Babies. Pregnant women are identified through community-based outreach and enrolled in a comprehensive care program.

The goal is to make soon to be moms aware of the importance of prenatal care and help them establish a routine of seeking well baby visits after their child’s birth. “The earlier a child receives good health care, intellectual and social stimulation” says Mayden “the more likely it is that the child will become a responsible, fulfilled member of the community.”

The program seeks to provide everyone in Upton/Druid Heights who is expecting a child or raising children between the ages of 0 and 3 with the information and support necessary to bring up happy and healthy children who enter school ready to learn.

Classes are held on Tuesday mornings at a church and all services are free. Participants receive a hot breakfast, child care and incentives during the 10-week course, which covers a broad range of subjects including responsive parenting; brain development; immunization; safety; asthma; lead poisoning; parental stress; and parent-child bonding.

The program began three years ago and now has two full cycles per year, each with more than 20 graduates. Each cycle is evaluated. The program outcomes are impressive and include:

•19% decrease in parent report of feeling extremely stress

•34.3% improvement in the parent’s willingness to offer richly stimulating experiences at a developmentally appropriate level for the child.

•12.3% improvement in the parent’s ability to positively reinforce, play supportively and affectionately with their child.

•13.5% improvement in the child’s ability to send cues to elicit behavioral modifications in the parent.

•26.2% improvement in the child’s ability of reading and responding to the parent.

It is almost impossible to overstate the significance of Promise University and its potential to improve the lives of poor families. The University of Maryland School Of Social Work successfully competed and was awarded a U.S. Department of Education’s Promise Neighborhood grant. This prestigious program provides funds for the Upton/ Druid Heights neighborhood.

Mayden says our program “is modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone belief that it is hard to raise healthy children in a disintegrated community and that local institutions can reverse even the most devastating conditions by drawing community members together around common interests and activities.”

The foundation of their work is grounded in the growing body of scientific research that shows primary prevention and early intervention are the most effective and cost-efficient strategies for achieving positive outcomes for children.

Their primary prevention programs use universal supports and services that prevent problems and developmental lags such as prenatal care for pregnant women, home visits, and support for new parents through Mom and Dad Clubs, medical homes to for well baby care, immunizations, and parenting education and support.

The benefits— of this level of care— touches the lives of the entire community, rich or poor, black, white, Asian or Hispanic. “For children to grow into healthy, productive adults” says Mayden, “they need engaged, effective families in their communities as well as consistent guidance from loving, attentive adults.”

For more information contact, Bronwyn Mayden, MSW, Assistant Dean, Continuing Professional Education Executive Director, Promise Heights University of Maryland School of Social Work at 410-706-2077.

Jayne Matthews Hopson writes about educational matters because “only the educated are free.”—Epictetus, former slave and stoic philosopher (55 AD - 135 AD).