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Reducing the risks of parenthood

Healthy Start — Healthy Families observing 20th anniversary


by: SUBMITTED - A Healthy Start - Healthy Families playgroup is thriving in West Linn. Margaret Kiker is supervisor of the program.Healthy Start — Healthy Families of Clackamas County tries to be right at the bedside whenever a new baby is born.

Now the organization is celebrating its own important birthday. This is the 20th year for HSHF, and it will observe this anniversary with a benefit banquet dinner on April 5. The funds raised will play a key role in the continued existence of an organization that helps high-risk, first-time parents with newborn children.

“Fundraising is new to us and there’s been a learning curve,” said Erin Deahn, program manager for HSHF. “We didn’t have to do it until our budget was cut three years ago. But we raised more money in our second year than we did the first time, and we hope to raise more money this year.”

The crucial aspect about HSHF is that it seeks to help a firstborn baby right from the start, first checking the background of the new mother and father for risk factors, then offering assistance. It does not wait until later to come to the rescue.

“There are so many things that are identified,” Deahn said. “There could be multiple stress points like homelessness, drug use, unstable mental health. And now a mom brings home a brand new baby.” by: SUBMITTED - The Walker family of West Linn has been greatly helped by Healthy Start - Healthy Families. In front are stepson, Tanner Walker, and baby, Katelyn. In back are parents Brandon and Melissa Walker.

HSHF screens all hospitals every day (901 new moms in hospitals were visited last year), identifies families with risk factors and then goes to a new mother to ask if she wants help. Often the answer is “no,” but many times the answer is “yes.”

Then, as Deahn said, “We can offer a whole array of answers and services.”

These include giving away a packet of resources for new moms and free weekly visits.

One of the best resources offered is the community play group held Wednesday mornings at Sunset Fire Hall in West Linn. It is run by volunteer mothers and offers toys, snacks and family guidance.

Simple advice can make for a healthier baby and a happier family.

“We tell new moms that it’s OK to walk away for a while when things get tense,” Deahn said. “It’s OK to call someone. Plus, it’s important to remember things like not smoking in a room with a baby in it. Parent-child bonding takes place from the moment a baby is born, and dads can be served too.

“We establish a really close working relationship with moms, and a lot of moms really need it.”

Melissa Walker of West Linn is a big fan of HSHF.

“As a new young mom, I’m a believer in the Healthy Start —Healthy Families program,” Walker said. “In today’s world it can sometimes seem impossible to navigate all the mysterious trials, tribulations and stressors of young children and parenting. This is where our Healthy Start home visitor has been such a huge support. We wish everyone with a new baby received home visits!”

HSHF does make a lot of visits. In the 2011-12 financial year the organization made home visits to 192 families. However, Deahn noted that this was a big drop from past years due to funding cuts by the state.

“They cut our funding in half,” she said. “We visited 100 fewer families.”

HSHF sponsors include Providence Health & Services, JD Fulwiler & Co. Insurance, Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt Attorneys at Law, Sierra Nevada Brewing, General Distributors and Oregon City Grocer Outlet.

To make reservations or get more information about the Healthy Start — Healthy Families, visit healthystartscc.org or call 503-496-3937. The banquet will be held at the Oregon Golf Club at 25700 SW Petes Mountain Road in West Linn.