February 2, 2013

Georgia rolls out program for new and expecting mothers

Charles Oliver

— A program begun in Whitfield County to promote early childhood health and development is being expanded across the state.

The program is called Great Start Georgia. It is funded by the Governor’s Office for Children  and Families, and it is administered in Whitfield County by the Family Support Council through a one-time $300,000 grant.

“We serve expectant parents and families with children up to five years of age,” said Caroline Pence, Healthy Families program director at the Family Support Council. “Initially the program begins with meeting with families and discovering their needs and linking them with community resources that are available to meet their needs. One strategy that is embedded within Great Start Georgia is evidence-based home visiting services.”

According to Great Start Georgia’s website (www.greatstartgeorgia.org), these home visits give parents individualized support to help them be better parents and to meet their children’s needs.

The state chose seven pilot counties two years ago based on an assessment that looked at things such as the numbers of teenage mothers and low-weight or premature births as well existing services for families.

“There are lots of us who have been working with children and families for many years. Healthy Families, for example, has been offering home visitation services for almost 20 years,” said Pence. “What’s different now with Great Start Georgia is that it does pull together various groups to provide one comprehensive system and framework to make sure that no one falls through the cracks. For example, I have staff members who visit new moms in the hospital every day. But we have a lot of people in the community who don’t deliver at Hamilton Medical Center. They may deliver in Chattanooga. Through the partnerships we have now, we have an opportunity to touch base with those families.”

Whitfield County began offering the program at the start of 2012. Officials rolled out the statewide effort last month at a lunch in Atlanta hosted by first lady Sandra Deal.

“Several of us from across the state went down there for that,” Pence said.

To inquire about services, contact the Family Support Council at (706) 272-7919.