Every mother in King County should have the opportunity to learn good parenting and raise healthy children in stress-free environments.
Claudia Gomez is in love.
You can see it in the way she looks into the eyes of her nearly 3-month-old daughter, Kimberly Dayana Manilla.
A lot has changed since I met this 25-year-old nanny last summer in the South Seattle home she shares with her family.
Back then, she was anxious and enduring a difficult pregnancy.
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If this six-year, $65 million annual levy passes on Nov. 3, it could make a difference for many more first-time mothers like Gomez throughout King County.
How? By closing the knowledge gap that exists between those who are able to afford quality prenatal care and those who simply cannot due to income limitations. Half of the levy’s revenue is dedicated to programs for pregnant mothers and children under the age of 5, an important period during which children’s brains are developing.
A grim 2012 Communities Count survey indicates that more than 60 percent of adults in King County suffered from at least one form of trauma as children, from sexual and physical abuse to living with a substance-abusing or mentally ill household member. For many kids, the results are a lack of preparedness for school and behavioral issues that land them in the criminal-justice system.
One strategy to reduce the negative effects of adverse childhood experiences is to help lower-income moms and dads learn about responsible parenting.
Gomez considers herself fortunate. During her pregnancy, she suffered two medical conditions — cholestasis of pregnancy (which causes intense itching) and gallstones. She had to stop working and her family could not afford private health care on her husband’s income.
After first seeking help from Public Health — Seattle and King County, she was introduced to a community health program for young and low-income first-time mothers, the Nurse-Family Partnership.
Under this program, Gomez has been receiving home visits from a registered nurse that will continue through the baby’s second birthday. She was also assigned a doula from the nonprofit Open Arms Perinatal Services who held Gomez’s hand during her daughter’s birth.
“They gave me more confidence to be prepared for each day,” she says.
Gomez’s stress levels have decreased and she is building new habits into her routine. She eats more healthful food, uses a car seat, breast-feeds rather than uses formula, ensures her baby sleeps on her back instead of her tummy, and monitors herself for signs of postpartum depression.
Such basic steps are known to prevent infant mortality, premature birth and lower birth weights. There’s a long-term benefit, too. Healthy and loved children stand a better chance of thriving in the classroom, staying out of trouble and escaping poverty.
Already, Gomez has spread some of her newfound knowledge to other young moms in her primarily Spanish-speaking community.
“They never get help from anybody, so I try to explain to them whatever I know,” she says with a proud smile.
Word-of-mouth works wonders, but if voters were to pass the Best Starts for Kids levy, it would be a sure way to expand effective programs such as the Nurse-Family Partnership and Open Arms. The latter has turned away more than 100 referrals for doula services this year due to lack of capacity.
The need for general prenatal support is likely even higher, especially among women of color.
In 2013, King County residents gave birth to nearly 25,000 infants. About 37 percent of those births were paid for by Medicaid and half were the result of unintended pregnancies. If we know that poverty and lack of parenting skills lead to poor outcomes for kids, why would we not try something different?
Best Starts for Kids would cost money now, but it’s probably a lot less than the price of doing nothing and letting parents and their children struggle on their own.
When mothers like Gomez and babies like Kimberly thrive, so do entire communities.