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Building bonds: one family's story

“The family is one of nature’s masterpieces,” said the philosopher, George Santayana. That’s a thought that resonates during the Christmas season.

But like any masterpiece, families must be nurtured, kept healthy and protected from harm if they are to endure.

Rosa Sime-Reyes, 33, grew up in the Dominican Republic and came to the United States with her daughter, Emily, five years ago, following her husband, Emilio who had come two years earlier. The couple now have two more daughters, Lorraine, 3, and Kristen, 6 months and have been renting a modest one-level house on a quiet cul-de-sac in Tualatin.

While pregnant with Kristen and taking English classes at Tualatin Library, Sime-Reyes learned a program called Opening Doors might be able to help her get health insurance.

Opening Doors, part of Community Action’s Healthy Families program, is a free program that connects low-income pregnant women with services to help them have healthy babies. One of its services is expediting enrollment in the Oregon Health Plan, the state’s Medicaid program that provides health care coverage for low-income Oregonians. As an insurance broker who handles Medicaid, Medicare and private insurance, I understand how important it is to help vulnerable pregnant women access health care as early as possible.

For Sime-Reyes, signing up for the Oregon Health Plan was quick and easy. She simply explained her family situation over the phone to Opening Doors staff and her application for coverage was accepted.

Healthy Families followed up by guiding Sime-Reyes through her pregnancy, finding a lactation group in Hillsboro and a baby care group in Tualatin for her to join, providing some children’s clothing and diapers and connecting her with a home visitor to help her family thrive.

Healthy Families is both a pregnancy support and parenting education program. It helps pregnant women get pre-natal support and then build strong parent-child interaction and attachment.

Many of the women Healthy Families serves come to the organization’s attention because screeners talk with them in a Washington County hospital after they give birth. If a woman qualifies, the screener alerts Healthy Families. A staff member contacts the woman, explains Healthy Families’ services and offers to help.

Healthy Families’ 11 home visitors build strong relationships with families under their care. For the first six months a home visitor goes to a home once a week. If the family finds employment and a stable place to live, is able to deal with money and health issues, and enjoys decent interactions with their children, the home visitor shifts to twice a month until the new child turns two. After that, visits occur once a month until the child is three.

“Studies show that this investment in children age 0-3 is huge in its payoff long term,” said Beth Dasher, Healthy Families’ program manager in Washington County. “We are making real changes in people’s lives and in the community at large because these children will be more stable and attached and will have tools to draw from when it gets difficult down the road.”

Home visitors are guided by a curriculum, “Growing Great Kids,” which teaches home safety, child discipline, ways to promote positive communications with children and how to break negative cyclical behaviors from their own childhood. “We talk a lot about the parent’s own history, what behaviors they would like to continue, what they would like to stop,” said Dasher.

“The goals are really up to the client,” said Dasher. “What’s really important is the process of learning how to set a goal, how to take steps toward it, how to achieve it, what it takes to be successful.”

What about Sime-Reyes’ goals? “I have so many goals,” she said. “My first goal is to get my U.S. citizenship. That’s why I’m learning English. I also want to be able to take time for my friends, my daughters and my husband. And I want to work outside my home.”

Marcy J. Gallegos is the fully licensed and insured principal producer and agency broker with Insured by Gallegos, Hillsboro.