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FOR RELEASE: September 12, 2000
CONTACT: Dick Gunn
405/271-5601

Former Client Becomes Employee for Children First Health Program

If success can be measured by the smiles upon the faces of moms, dads and their children, then the Children First Program is one of the most successful, family-oriented programs in Oklahoma. Add to that picture a first-time mom, Sarah Flora, who finished her degree in nursing and later became a Children First nurse at the Pontotoc County Health Department, and you've got the best of all situations.

“I recommend the Children First Program to anyone who is going to be a first-time mother and is under 28 weeks pregnant. The nurses help educate and guide you, and involve the entire family in early childhood development from a practical point of view. Women of all income levels and educational backgrounds can participate in the program,” said Sarah Flora, RN.

Flora is a former client who completed her nursing degree at East Central University in Ada. She moved to Ada in 1999 with her husband after completing two years of a four-year nursing program in Michigan. Flora admits it was difficult being separated from her parents during her first pregnancy and she did not really know what to expect, although she had some idea from her training in nursing.

“My Children First nurse was Genifer Wilkins, RN. She taught me how to communicate with my baby, play games with her and understand the developmental steps a child goes through growing up,” Flora said. “On Sept. 30, 1999, I gave birth to a beautiful 7 pound 4 ounce little girl that my husband and I named Shaellen. I learned about the program when I was enrolling in WIC and the counselor referred me to Children First. It sounded like a really neat program and I wanted to learn everything I could about raising a baby, so I could be the best mother possible,” she said.

Wilkins said, “I last saw Sarah this April when she was finishing college and encouraged her to apply for an opening we had for a Children First nurse. I was impressed with her compassion and patience and felt she would make a good role model for a lot of our moms. Finishing nursing school and being a mom is tough. I was very impressed with the way she was able to handle it.”

After graduating from nursing school and spending some time working in the maternity ward at a hospital, Flora was hired by the Children First program this past July. “It was a great opportunity for me to do what I like best, which is helping and teaching patients. I enjoy making home visits and following the family through with the baby up to age 2 years. As Children First nurses, we involve everyone in the house that wants to be involved and make a special effort to get dads involved. Some dads like to be involved in the birthing process, others like to be at every home visit to ask questions, while others like to watch us weigh and measure the baby. We assess the home and show parents how to baby-proof the home for safety and provide information on parenting.”

Melissa Tidwell, RN, is the lead Children First nurse for Pontotoc, Marshall, and Bryan counties. “The program does not replace the doctor, but adds a support component to the process of having and raising a baby. After the baby reaches 2 years of age, the nurses hold a graduation program and ceremony to help the families feel a real sense of accomplishment. Sarah's being in the program, and then becoming a nurse for the program, will give the staff a new perspective on the program. I expect the experience to reflect positively in the growth of the program,” Tidwell said.

Physicians and health care providers are encouraged to refer pregnant women to the community-based Children First program. The voluntary program offers public health nurse home visitation to families as a supplement to health care provider services. Eligible women are less than 28 weeks pregnant; expecting to deliver their first child; and have limited financial or family support.

Oklahoma's Children First program has hundreds of success stories. Some samples include:

  • Pontotoc County –The program helped a mother, S.P., deal with stress and taught her to be a better mom.
  • Oklahoma County – The program helped a mother, A.H., stabilize her life, complete a GED and learn skills to raise a baby so she could continue her education.
  • Johnston County – The program helped a mother, K.K, learn about childbirth, childcare, and how to set goals for herself to return to finish her college education after the baby was born.
  • Muskogee County – M.H. and husband learned about prenatal care, breastfeeding, child development, and established a network for professional and moral support.
  • Comanche County – K.M. and husband felt more comfortable having easy access to a public health nurse to ask questions on nutrition, safety and other topics they felt uncomfortable asking the doctor.

The Children First visiting nurse program is based on a model by Dr. David Olds, professor of pediatrics, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and director of the Prevention Research Center in Denver. Children First started as a pilot project in four Oklahoma counties in 1997 and later expanded statewide.

The Rand Corporation's research on early childhood development programs showed that participating children gain in emotional and cognitive development, have better outcomes in education, have increased economic self-sufficiency, achieve higher income/lower welfare usage, and have reduced criminal activity. Families also experienced better health and fewer problems with drug abuse.

For more information about the program and other success stories in your community, call the county health department in your area.

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