Family support programs available

Published 10:46 pm Monday, April 7, 2014

During National Child Abuse Prevention Month, local family services and health care experts want folks in Suffolk to be aware of all the programs available to support families in the area.

Hampton Roads, as a region, has a higher proportional rate of deaths from child abuse and neglect, officials recently announced. According to the report by the Hampton Roads Regional Child Fatality Review Team, more than a third of Virginia’s child fatalities in fiscal year 2013 occurred in the Eastern region, although just 23 percent of children lived in the region.

There are a number of possible reasons for the difference, local experts said.

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Janice Norton-Gregory, the Child Protective Services supervisor for Suffolk, said military life and the transient nature of the modern American population in general mean that many first-time mothers are away from their own mothers and other extended family, which could act as a support system.

“They don’t have people they can really rely on,” Norton-Gregory said.

Suffolk Health Department Director Nancy Welch said the numbers for Hampton Roads look bad but could be worse were it not for several collaborative programs that have been introduced in recent years.

“The problem with prevention is you can’t measure what you’ve prevented,” Welch said. “I’m pretty confident the numbers would be even worse.”

The programs include Healthy Families, which follows at-risk families from the child’s birth to age 5. Program workers visit homes to check on the child’s development and offer support, encouragement and resources to the mother. Each mother is also encouraged to improve her education and skills in order to secure more or better employment.

The Nurse-Family Partnership is another program that assists low-income, first-time mothers who join the program before they are 28 weeks pregnant. They are paired with a registered nurse, who makes home visits weekly for the 30 months until the child’s second birthday.

A Sentara Obici Hospital program called Newborn and Family Screening and Referral is available to any mother who delivers at Obici. It also starts before delivery to ensure the mother’s wellness and a healthy full-term baby. Parents can be referred to other programs or receive guidance from a website, www.herewegrowsuffolk.com, and other resources.

The Safe and Stable Families program is run through the Social Services Department.

Many of the programs are partially funded by Obici Healthcare Foundation.

LaTonya Brown, family services supervisor, said she can see the changes the support of the program has made.

“We’re here to support children and support families,” she said.

“The programs we’ve put into place are making a difference,” said Phyllis Stoneburner, vice president for patient care services at Sentara Obici Hospital. “This is what we’re all about.”