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Young moms off to a strong start with Building Healthy Children Program

August 9, 2017
child's feet on top of parent's feet(Getty Images photo)

The Mt. Hope Family Center held a graduation ceremony Tuesday for 20 young mothers who successfully completed the Building Healthy Children Program. The event, held at the Strong Museum of Play, came as the center celebrates the program’s 10th year of providing early intervention services to mothers under the age of 21.

“I used to be someone totally different than who I am now,” says Ciara Dowell, a 21-year-old single mom who just completed the three-year program.

Shortly after Dowell had her daughter, an outreach worker from Mt. Hope told her about Building Healthy Children.

“I was very frustrated that I couldn’t do anything, but my outreach worker Roxanne and my counselor Teresa helped me get through those days.”

“At the time, I was depressed and did a lot of crying,” says Dowell. “I had no idea where the next can of milk was coming from.”

Building Healthy Children helped Dowell get a stroller, crib, diapers, and other daily necessities. While those provisions addressed her immediate needs, Dowell soon learned the program offered a great deal more.

“I was very frustrated that I couldn’t do anything, but my outreach worker Roxanne and my counselor Teresa helped me get through those days,” she says. “One thing I learned was how to talk to my daughter without yelling or spanking her.”

The program grew out of concerns over the rising rates of child abuse and neglect in Monroe County. The United Way of Greater Rochester and Monroe County turned to the Mt. Hope Family Center, as well as the social work and pediatrics departments at the University of Rochester Medical Center, to come up with a program to assist young mothers in raising children who are both physically and emotionally healthy.

“We built an evaluation component into the program,” says program director Robin Sturm, “and we’re excited to see data showing the progress being made.”

Assessed against a comparison group of young single mothers, those who completed the Building Healthy Children program have more confidence in their parenting skills and fewer signs of depression, Sturm says.

“And it’s not just the moms who are doing better,” she adds. “Their children are less anxious and show fewer behavior problems.”

Building Healthy Children is equipped to accept 130 families a year. Ten years ago, the program was affiliated with specific medical centers and pediatric clinics. Today, mothers under the age of 21—including expectant mothers in their second or third trimester—can refer themselves, as can any agency in the county.

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