Health and Human Services Agency
Healthy People, Healthy Communities
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Date: November 12, 2014
Mendocino County‚s Health and Human Services Agency Staff Collaborates With Local Organizations To Educate Young Families On How To Stay Healthy
On October 19-20, the annual Pumpkinfest event in downtown Ukiah provided an ideal setting for Mendocino County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) staff and other like-minded organizations to share important health messages with families with young children˜the most likely population to be pregnant, planning a pregnancy, or know someone who is.
Some 400 passers-by may initially have been attracted by sippy cups and baby bibs, or by the refreshing mocktails (non-alcoholic, non-sugary drinks), but many visitors engaged with booth-tenders about ways to stay healthy and walked away with information on the availability of services covering nutrition, breastfeeding, and treatment for alcohol and drug dependency.
HHSA‚s Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program and the Partnership for Healthy Babies (PHB) offered information regarding good nutrition for pregnant moms and their young children, as well as the dangers of drinking alcohol while pregnant.
PHB is a local, collaborative group comprised of staff members from the Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA), including Public Health, Behavioral Health and Children‚s Services, along with representatives from First 5 Mendocino, Mendocino Community College Kinship and Foster care Program, and California State Council on Developmental Disabilities. The group‚s primary goal is to prevent conditions caused by fetal alcohol exposure.
WIC and PHB both emphasize the importance of a mother‚s health before and during pregnancy, and the impact her food and substance consumption can have on her baby‚s development˜and the baby‚s potential for health throughout its life. With good nutrition and avoidance of alcohol consumption, a mother can give her developing baby an excellent chance for a healthy, full-functioning and productive life. Support from friends and family members can encourage a pregnant woman to make good choices.�
PHB‚s mocktails booth was intended not only to educate pregnant or soon-to-be-pregnant women about the importance of avoiding alcohol, but also to educate everyone in the community about avoiding Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs), as they are 100 percent preventable. Many people in the community may find themselves serving beverages to a pregnant woman: her partner, her extended family members, her boss, or her waiter or waitress. PHB members encourage having fun, non-alcoholic alternatives available for pregnant women when others are drinking wine or cocktails. This can be especially helpful during holiday season, when parties abound.
PHB formed in 2006, bringing together representatives of the health care community, local non-profit and public agencies, and individual advocates committed to preventing conditions caused by in-utero exposure to alcohol or other harmful substances. Studies show that alcohol affects brain development in a fetus, causing a range of conditions that can include mild to severe physical and intellectual disabilities, and problems with learning and behavior regulation. Because it is not yet clear from scientific studies how much alcohol causes damage, one of PHB‚s key messages for women who are pregnant or may become pregnant is not consume any at all. The first few weeks of pregnancy, often before a woman even knows she is pregnant, are a particularly vulnerable time because the neurological system‚s basic structure is beginning to form. Alcohol appears to interfere with formation of neural connections essential for normal brain development and function.
The PHB draws on the expertise of its participants to pursue its goals. Many HHSA departments participate. HHSA‚s Maternal Child and Adolescent Health Director and the Comprehensive Perinatal Service Program Coordinator actively promote standardized early health screening of pregnant women, and referral for treatment when needed to reduce potential risks to the fetus from substance use or abuse.
Behavioral Health and Recovery Services provides counseling and substance abuse treatment, with gender-specific, individual and group counseling available to women through its Women In Need of Drug-Free Opportunities (WINDO) program.
And Family and Children‚s Services encourages families to remain drug-free and alcohol-free to stay healthy and avoid hurtful behaviors that can come to the attention of Child Protective Services. According to the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (the most extreme type of FASD), almost 70 percent of children in foster care are affected by prenatal alcohol exposure in varying degrees. When social workers and other involved professionals understand and address the underlying causes of behaviors, their interventions are likely to be more effective.
By understanding FASDs (which often resemble conditions involving attention deficit and/or hyperactivity) and ensuring that children so affected are referred early for supportive services, whole communities benefit. Parents and school staff can receive training on approaches to help the child develop as fully as possible. Fewer children may require placement in foster care, and fewer may find themselves involved in the juvenile justice system. With so much help available, affected individuals are more likely to become independent, self-supporting, and contributing members of the community.
PHB is committed to ensuring that children and families benefit from available resources that support healthy growth and development. To this end, PHB and the Mendocino Community College Kinship and Foster care Program co-sponsor an annual workshop series for parents, foster and adoptive parents, and other interested community members. Experts share the latest information on FASDs and provide guidance on advocating for children within the educational and dependency/juvenile justice systems to ensure that those with identified disabilities receive individually tailored educational services and appropriate placement and treatment. As part of this training, a community panel presents the range of resources available to support families and children who are affected by developmental disability.
For more information about WIC, call (707) 472-2743. For more information about PHB, call (707) 472-2730. For more information about other Health and Human Services programs, go to www.co.mendocino.ca.us/hhsa.