State's First Lady and Healthy Families Team Up

State's First Lady and Healthy Families Team Up

Virginia’s First Lady, Lisa Collis, is doing her part to draw attention to National Child Abuse Prevention Month and to highlight a successful child abuse prevention program, Healthy Families.

The First Lady visited Alexandria April 15, and visited a family living in The Berg.

Healthy Families is a program of Northern Virginia Family Services. It provides in-home support services to first-time parents and their infants, from prenatal care through five years of age. The program serves more than 300 families in Alexandria each year and is part of a national effort. Alexandria’s program began in 1993 when Sen. Patricia S. “Patsy” Ticer was mayor of the city.

“It’s a wonderful program that has demonstrated that a simple, straightforward approach can lead to great success,” Ticer said. “That is one of the reasons why we fought so hard to restore the state funding for the program that had been cut. We were successful because there are 37 Healthy Families programs in Virginia now and they have clearly demonstrated that they are cost-effective.”

Collis and her husband, Governor Mark Warner, supported the program prior to assuming their new roles on the state level. “We supported Healthy Families through our family foundation and I am glad to be able to continue to support their efforts now,” Collis said. She spent last Monday visiting the staff and clients of Healthy Families programs in Prince William County and in Alexandria.

“I like the program because it is so simple and straightforward: it doesn’t rely on any gimmicky program; it’s just people-to-people, one on one, building a relationship with a family and providing the support that the family needs to raise healthy children.”

COLLIS VISITED THE VARNER FAMILY who live in The Berg, on N. Alfred Street. Mother, Shalishia, father Jermain, and nearly two-year-old Jermain, have been part of the program since just after the boy’s birth.

“Each time I visit the home, I try to do something different that allows the parents to focus on their child’s development,” said Ruth Freeman, the family support worker who is assigned to the Varners. “Also, I work with the mother to help her move forward with her own life; to show her that it is possible to get job training or return to her career and to find appropriate childcare for her son.”

Sally Campbell, the program coordinator, explained how families come into the program. “We partner with the Alexandria Health Department and with other agencies in the city,” she said. “When an at-risk parent comes to a clinic for prenatal care and that woman is a first-time parent, she is referred to our program. Healthy Families is voluntary and that is one of the reasons why we are so successful.”

And the program is clearly successful. Ninety two percent of Healthy Families mothers delivered healthy babies; 98 percent of the children have primary healthcare providers; 94 percent of the mothers had at least 24 months between subsequent pregnancies and 100 percent of the children who were identified as having developmental delays were referred to early intervention services.

“We are successful because of the work of the staff and because of the commitment of the families we serve,” said V. Rodger Digilio, a member of the Resource Development Committee. This group of volunteers helps with fund-raising activities. “I am very pleased to be a part of such a wonderful organization.”