Five-year federal grant aims to help at-risk Washington County infants

Posted Nov. 11, 2008, at 8:32 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 6 a.m.

MACHIAS, Maine — A $5.5 million federal intervention grant could improve the health, well-being and future of at-risk infants in Washington County.

The federal Department of Health and Human Services recently awarded the grant to the Community Caring Collaborative. CCC is partnering with the Maine Division of Family Health.

The five-year grant will help meet the mental health needs of children up to age 8 and their families.

“Early intervention is economically the most feasible thing to do,” CCC director Marjorie Withers said last week. “For every dollar that you spend early on in a child’s life — and I am talking from conception on — you are saving about $10 in [future] services.”

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The statistics are startling: One out of every three babies born in Washington County is at risk. “And we have about 300 babies [born] a year,” Jane Weil, CCC’s community state liaison, said.

At-risk babies are those identified as being born to teenage mothers; babies exposed to harmful substances including alcohol, cigarettes and opiates; any baby that is born preterm or with health conditions; and babies exposed to trauma.

“In Washington County over 29 percent of mothers who deliver are smoking during their last trimester,” Withers said as an example. “Now we know there is a linkage with permanent changes in the brain with oxygen deprivation. That baby smokes every cigarette that a mom smokes.”

The goal is to have trained professionals work with rural health centers and the Discovery House Methadone Clinic in Calais to provide wraparound services that will help the mother and baby early on.

The collaborative began as a grass-roots organization nearly three years ago. More than 35 agencies and entities county-wide are involved, including the Washington County Children’s Program, Downeast Health Services, Family First, Community Health and Counseling Services, and Head Start.

CCC was one of six programs to be picked nationally for what has been dubbed Project Launch, which stands for “Linking Actions for Unmet Needs in Children’s Health.”

Withers noted that CCC was a program without walls, as there is no building. “All of the money that we have is going back into agencies to improve training and to grow the professionals we already have here,” she said.

CCC also is working with the University of Maine at Machias and Washington County Community College in Calais to develop a work force with expertise in areas that will help at-risk infants.

In addition, the collaborative also has partnered with Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor to work with high-risk pregnant mothers to offer them wraparound case management services for when they return home.

CCC’s five-year goal is to increase the number of infants who receive services; to double the number of professionals trained in early intervention; to have a system of care integrated into existing services; and to be able to reach all of Washington County.

If the goals are met, “we would have a much higher percentage of children entering pre-kindergarten or kindergarten successfully,” Weil said.

“And we would see a reduction in the number of children in special education,” Withers added. “And down the road we would see a reduction of kids in court and ultimately in jail. We can’t afford not to do this.”

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