Eleven Family Connection Collaboratives Team up to Improve Indicators of Child and Family Well-Being

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Low birthweight, childhood obesity, and a literacy gap are serious threats to the well-being of Georgia’s families and children. Recognizing the impact these pressing issues have on the state’s health, safety, and ability to prosper, Georgia Family Connection Partnership (GaFCP) has launched three initiatives dedicated to developing and implementing strategies that address these key indicators.

With help from state and community partners and funding agencies, GaFCP is providing 11 Collaborative organizations with resources, assistance and a structure to team up with their peers in other counties struggling with the same indicator.

Each Collaborative is in one of three cohorts and will work independently and as a team to strategize, identify resources, and develop programming to change the tide of low birthweight, childhood obesity or grade-level reading in their counties.

“These are indicators of well-being later in life,” said Rebekah Hudgins, community cohorts project manager at GaFCP. “Our goal is to bring attention to their importance and where they intersect to improve child and family well-being across the state.”

Working together, the Collaboratives in each cohort will share research, as well as their experiences and successes in their own counties, to create programs targeted to improve their indicator.

Low Birthweight

The first initiative launched was Low Birthweight Prevention in 2010 with four counties—Lamar, Heard, Spalding, and Butts.

Georgia’s low birthweight rate (babies born at less than 5.5 pounds) is among the worst in the nation, so there is much work to be done, including improving women’s health care, increasing community awareness and education about the risks associated with low birthweight, and providing access to adequate prenatal care.

“Ninety percent of children in Georgia who die before their first birthday are born low weight,” Hudgins said.

With funding from the Healthcare Georgia Foundation and Kaiser Permanente, along with participation from a host of state and community partners, including RAND Corporation, GaFCP published Improving Infant Health: Addressing Low Birthweight in Georgia. The compendium is a result of a collaborative effort and is just the beginning of the work being done to combat this serious public health issue.

Because of the strides being made through the Low Birthweight Prevention Initiative through local collaboration, GaFCP announced this summer the creation of initiatives that will address childhood obesity and grade-level reading.

Early Learning—Grade-Level Reading

A KIDS COUNT study reveals that reading proficiently by the end of third grade can be a make-or-break benchmark in a child’s educational development. Students with low literacy achievement tend to have more behavioral and social problems in subsequent grades and higher rates of retention. And with more than 70 percent of Georgia’s students moving on to the fourth grade without proficient reading skills, improving literacy in counties where reading rate trends are worse than the state average is crucial.

With funding from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Polk, Seminole, and Charlton counties have launched the Early Childhood—Grade-Level Reading Campaign.

“We know that third graders who are not reading on grade level are far more likely not to graduate from high school on time,” Hudgins said. “And research shows that many low birthweight children are pre-term, and children born pre-term have lower school performance,” she added, illustrating how the indicators intersect.

Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity is both a health and financial threat to the state when you consider the $2.4 billion Georgia spends on treating obesity-related illnesses and, for the first time in U.S. history, children are expected to live shorter lives than their parents due to the consequences of obesity.

Baldwin, NewtonWashington, and Talbot counties are all too familiar with the impact childhood obesity has on their families and communities. With support from the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, the Childhood Obesity Prevention Initiative hopes to get children back in shape and at healthy weights.

“About 35 percent of Georgia’s children are considered obese or overweight,” Hudgins said. “And childhood obesity is often linked to other health problems, such as Type 1 diabetes.”

In addition, Hudgins said a recent fitness assessment conducted by the state Dept. of Education found that 43 percent of students failed to attain a healthy fitness zone. “And we’re not just talking body mass index,” she said. “This is for aerobic capacity, muscular strength and endurance.”

Baldwin County has had a running start combating childhood obesity with the Live Healthy Baldwin Program that began three years ago. With the creation of community gardens, walking and biking trails and healthy eating education initiatives, the Baldwin collaborative is hoping to share its successes and learn new strategies with the other counties taking on childhood obesity.

To learn more about these three initiatives or the cohorts targeting them. Contact Rebekah Hudgins.

Diana St. Lifer is a professional writer with more than 25 years’ experience. She holds a bachelor’s degree in communications, a post-B.A. certificate in child advocacy, and is a certified professional life coach who specializes in teen and adolescent issues.