Catching Families Before They Fall

Ellen Crosby, Washington Post, Feb. 10

For Deysi Marquez, a Salvadoran immigrant living in Leesburg, the emergency Caesarean delivery of her premature twin sons in May 2001 was a frightening and traumatic event.

Alex and Cristian, born during her 26th week of pregnancy, had heart problems and were immediately put on oxygen. Their father had returned to El Salvador to be with his family after an earthquake, and she had no way to communicate with him. And because she spoke no English, she had no way to communicate with her doctors, either.

Enter MotherNet/Healthy Families Loudoun, a nonprofit organization that provides free health and education services for minority families with children up to age 5. Although it had a full caseload, MotherNet/Healthy Families Loudoun enrolled Marquez so the twins would be able to come home with her instead of being placed in a foster home.

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MotherNet/Healthy Families Loudoun has been helping Marquez and the children’s father, Sebastian Parada, 39, for more than three years. The family initially received the most intensive level of services, which included at least six home visits a month and transportation for Marquez during the four months one or both twins remained in the hospital. Family support workers taught them such basic skills as bathing, feeding and changing diapers. There was also the more difficult task of monitoring the twins’ oxygen supply.

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Among its accomplishments: All babies born to mothers in the program have had healthy birth weights, and all the children have been up to date on their immunizations. No teenage mother has had a second child within two years of her first. Another significant statistic is that there have been no known cases of child abuse or neglect among the program participants.

“We’re there to give children the most optimal start in life,” said Judith Hanley, director of MotherNet/Healthy Families Loudoun. “We try to find kids prenatally where the parents have stresses, concerns, history or problems that will affect their ability to raise a child. These at-risk factors include social isolation, lack of language, lack of transport, mental health issues, unplanned pregnancies or domestic violence.”

But with Loudoun’s explosive population growth—particularly the tripling of the Hispanic community between 1990 and 2000, now accounting for nearly 6 percent and possibly more of the population—the nonprofit is struggling to keep up with the demand for services.

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