Board working to launch baby visit program

Gainesville Sun
By Cleveland Tinker

Checking on newborns and mothers during the first week of a child’s life will be the top priority of a program developed by the Alachua County Children’s Services Advisory Board.

Starting its second year of existence with about a $2.4 million budget funded by Alachua County, the board expects to launch its Healthy Baby Nurse Home Visit Program sometime soon after the new year begins, said Tom Logan, board chair.

The board serves children from prenatal to 5 and their families.

The board will launch its Transformative Professional Development for Early Learning and Care and its Healthy Social and Emotional Development and Family Support programs after the home visit program begins, Logan said.

The County Commission has chosen the Healthy Start Coalition of North Central Florida to run the program at a cost of about $400,000, Logan said.

Details of how much the program will cost won’t be known until the coalition completes negotiations with UF Health Shands Hospital, North Florida Regional Medical Center and homecare agencies, which will provide services to help run the program, Logan said.

The home visit program will be based on a similar model developed in Port St. Lucie County that relies on collaborations between birthing centers, hospitals and other programs.

“We want every baby born in Alachua County and that will reside in Alachua County to get a home visit from a registered nurse to make sure babies and their mothers are doing well,” said Tom Tonkavich, county liaison to the board. “The goal of what we are doing is for every child in Alachua County to be ready for success in kindergarten.”

The board was created in 2016 to help prepare children for success in school and life.

The advisory board is composed of representatives from the Department of Children and Families, Alachua County Health Department, School Board of Alachua County, a judge and five others appointed by the County Commission.

The board will use the Transformative Professional Development for Early Learning and Care program to help those working in early childhood care to optimize their skills used to help the children they serve, Logan said.

One or two sites will be established where childcare workers will learn new strategies about how to deal with children more effectively, Logan said.

The Healthy Social and Emotional Development and Family Support Program will use “credentialed professionals” who specialize in early childhood development to coordinate services that will help childcare workers and others identify and help children who may be headed toward developing behavioral and emotional problems, Logan said.

“The key word we use is prevention,” said Logan, a retired early childhood educator who worked 45 years in the field. “We want to reduce the number of children and families who develop behavioral and emotional problems.”

The three programs are expected to cost between $400,000 and $500,000 each, and the board has recommended using funds not allocated for those programs be awarded as one-time grants to agencies and organizations that propose innovative ways to deliver services to children and families that are in line with the board’s goals, Logan said.

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