Family Connections celebrates 25 years

Beth Rumsey, Staff Writer

December marks Family Connections 25th anniversary of service to Ripley and surrounding counties. Through programs such as Start Healthy, Healthy Families, Prenatal Substance Use Prevention Program (PSUPP), and free pregnancy tests, Family Connections has been able to provide resources and support to help families maintain healthy environments for their children.

Family Connections began in 1983, then known as the Ripley County Health Coalition, through a grant from the Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH). This provided prenatal care for uninsured pregnant women. Connie DeBurger, executive director, stated, “One of the main goals of prenatal care is to reduce preterm deliveries and low birth weight.”

In 1985, the Health Coalition opened a well-child clinic twice a month; expanding to three times a month. The clinic closed in 1998, due to the expansion of eligibility to Medicaid through Hoosier Healthwise. Over 2800 children were assisted by the clinic during its years of service.

The Start Healthy program began in 1994 to provide education and support for families in Ripley County. According to Saralee Cumberworth, program manager for Start Healthy, Family Support Specialists visit clients once a month in the home to provide information on prenatal care; to ensure there is a doctor for their child and themselves; provide information on immunizations and make sure they are up to date; and ensure the child has a dentist. A Family Support Specialist also provides nutritional guidance and information about pregnancy, labor, delivery, and early parenting.

Healthy Families, a parent support group program for families with newborns, was implemented in 1996. A grant from FSSA and Children’s Trust Fund allowed expansion of Healthy Families to six counties: Dearborn, Franklin, Jennings, Ohio, Ripley, and Switzerland. “Families face multiple stressors such as low paying jobs, unemployment, child care costs, or inadequate housing. Parenting is a tough job. We help to deal with the stress so the parents can focus on their families,” noted DeBurger. The Healthy Families program relieves the stress of having a new baby and coping with other situations at the same time.

The most recent program, started in 2002, is the Prenatal Substance Use Prevention Program, which provides assistance to at-risk pregnant women due to substance abuse, including tobacco. PSUPP is funded by the Maternal Child Health division of the ISDH. According to Program Manager Saralee Cumberworth, PSUPP is the only home-based substance abuse support program. “If we go to them and make it more personal, they are more likely to quit,” she said. In fact, 95% of those enrolled in PSUPP either reduced the use of tobacco or quit. Currently, two nurses serve a six county area visiting clients in their homes each trimester, with phone calls every month to give encouragement and support. One can call 1-800-QUITNOW to get started with this program.

Family Support Specialists (FSS) work with families to develop goals that impact the children’s health. Going into the home allows the FSS to recognize other factors that affect the families and to help the families to manage the resources they have to help them get what they need. “We are fulfilling a need that used to be provided by the family or the church several years ago,” said DeBurger. “Who else is going to do that?” By providing information and education, a FSS can promote healthy eating and exercise to prevent childhood obesity and assist families locating community resources.

Free pregnancy tests are also provided to those who need them. Included with the test are prenatal vitamins, literature about various pregnancy topics required by the State of Indiana and a consultation with a registered nurse.

Family Connections is located at 202 Gaslight Drive, Versailles. Those in need can access the services offered by calling 812-689-6363. Those outside of Ripley County can call 1-888-689-6363. “I have a great staff,” concluded DeBurger, “they are very committed to see families get the help they need.”

Pictured from left are: Connie DeBurger, executive director of Family Connections; Tom Gray, resource coordinator; and Saralee Cumberworth, program manager for Start Healthy and Prenatal Substance Use Prevention Program (PSUPP). They are pictured in front of plaques with names of financial supporters of the program