03/01/11 — Project Connect receives $600,000

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Project Connect receives $600,000

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 1, 2011 1:46 PM

Wayne County is one of five communities in the state slated to receive nearly $600,000 in state funding this spring designed to expand and enhance services currently available to young pregnant or parenting teens.

Project Connect: Communities Supporting Young Families is a two-and-one-half-year grant from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Public Health Women's and Children's Health Section.

The Partnership for Children of Wayne County will be lead agency for the grant, with eight other agencies also collaborating on the initiative -- Wayne County Health Department, Cooperative Extension, Wayne Economic Group for Economic Solvency, or WAGES, Wayne Memorial Hospital, Wayne Uplift, Wayne Community College, Wayne County Public Schools and Goldsboro Pediatrics.

Twenty counties in the state were eligible for the funding -- where criteria required communities to have Parents as Teachers programs or other evidence-based models.

"From the beginning, (Wayne County) already had in place two of the three approved home visitation models, so we had a good foundation to build upon," said Dr. Marlee Ray, executive director of WAGES.

Wayne County had a 20 percent chance of getting the grant, said James Roosen, county health director with Wayne County Health Department. He was especially pleased about the funding, as it will support several areas the Health Department already serves -- including birth control, family planning, child services and establishing a medical home for non-pregnant women, as well as tobacco cessation counseling and domestic violence prevention.

"The purpose is to help pregnant and parenting women from ages 13 to 24 with comprehensive services around maternal health," said Patty Huffman, executive director for the Partnership, who wrote the grant. "It's the whole gamut of everything that can affect health."

One area Roosen's office has particularly targeted in recent years is teen pregnancy rates, which have seen a slight drop but still remain a concern, especially in terms of subsequent births.

"You can expect about one-third of all kids who get pregnant to get pregnant again," he said. "It has dropped over the last couple of years -- about 3 percent, so that's good."

But the economic burden to a community is staggering, Roosen said. While Medicaid absorbs a large amount, the cost of supporting children born to children remains problematic.

"About one-third of our clients are teenagers," he said. "We're seeing right at about 100 kids 19 years of age or less every month. ...

"If we can reduce teen pregnancy, if we can reduce out of wedlock births, that's going to reduce our expenses, get more kids through the community college, get more kids out of high school into college. Economically, I think it's going to be very good. I just hope to see a decline in the number of secondary pregnancies that we have in this age group."

One program, certainly, cannot do it all, Scott said.

Fortunately for Wayne County, it won't have to, since several efforts are already in place. In addition to maternity and family planning clinics at the Health Department, Parenting as Teachers is one of the existing programs at Cooperative Extension and WAGES sponsors First Steps, which works with parents and families on building better relationships.

"These two programs are similar but address two different populations or groups of people, so they're overlapping but broadening their approach," Ms. Ray said.

The funding will allow local agencies to expound upon what they do, while focusing on a larger audience, Scott said.

"There's more need out there than there are possibilities," he said. "This program gives us an opportunity to make a difference in people's lives. We're not looking for a Band-Aid. We're looking for a solution."

The anticipated state funding will also build upon the collaborative efforts long developed among agencies in Wayne County.

"One requirement is to have an advisory council made up of at least six agencies," Mrs. Huffman said. "For here, dozens have agreed to serve on this. ... Some of the partners are not necessarily ones that you would think of -- domestic violence, Wayne Uplift has come on board, Wayne Community College is a big partner (for its) life skills training, GEDs, higher education if they need it.

"It's a nice service that we're not just looking at teenagers, we're also going up to age 24."

Ultimately, the outcomes go beyond just preventing teen pregnancy, into some other areas that benefit that generation, Roosen said.

"We're looking at graduation rates, getting kids into college, getting kids off food stamps," he explained.

It will also mean continuation of services, such as the prenatal education and being able to visit more high schools and serve more teens as well as young adults, Mrs. Huffman said.

"The idea is we're having more comprehensive range of services for young women 13-24 through coordination of services, integration of services," added Ms. Ray. "Expanded services, also through things we're not already doing -- incentives, transportation vouchers, a range of things ... broader than what people typically think about."

In addition to services and programs, the grant also provides for several hires.

Among the new positions that will be created are a Project Connect director, a family social worker for the First Steps program at WAGES, a parent educator at Cooperative Extension, and a Project Connect coordinator to serve as liaison between the Health Department and other public health systems.

Although the hires, like the grant, will only run from April of this year through Aug. 2013, the effects are expected to be "far-reaching," Scott said.

"I think what makes this particular grant appealing and certainly we are very proud to be one of the few to receive grant due to the quality way it was written," said Ms. Ray, with a nod to Mrs. Huffman. "We would have a community connection, it's a way for broader-based services to be provided for more people, but also that connection between those services so that for families there's a bridge that helps them assess what they need more easily."