County program teaches basics to new parents 

From breast-feeding and parenting classes to childhood development assessments, Danelle Rienks’ 5-year-old daughter had all the advantages.

Well, maybe not all. But she had a lot that she wouldn’t have had without the county’s Pre-to-Three program, which focuses on delivering prenatal care to mothers and home health evaluations to the children of low-income families in the first 10 weeks of the baby’s life, Rienks said Tuesday.

The program, which began in 1996, provides important services to low-income families, including delivering information on medical insurance for kids, doctor visits, food vouchers and early assessment of a child’s mental and physical well-being, said public health nurse Mary Hansell, who oversees the program.

One indicator of the program’s success is the substantial reduction of the number of local children entering the foster care program, Hansell said.

That number, thanks in part to Pre-to-Three, has dropped from an estimated 218 in 1996 to about 166 in 2004, Hansell told supervisors during a presentation of the program’s Strategic Plan 2006-10 Tuesday.

"I found out about Pre-to-Three through the hospital when my daughter was born after I asked about breast-feeding and mental health support," Rienks said.

A single mom with two jobs, Rienks, 43, saidthat at times she felt alone. "I thought I was making mistakes raising my daughter."

Now, with her baby about to start kindergarten, she has completed multiple parenting classes, taken advantage of regular child assessments at which her daughter has excelled and received a child car seat at no charge, all thanks to Pre-to-Three, Rienks said.

"There is a huge amount of literature that indicates that if we can identify which kids are at higher risk for developmental delays in such areas as speech or motor skills, we can intervene so that they will be more successful later on in school, work and life," said Dr. Janet Chaikind, medical director of pediatric and adolescent medicine at the San Mateo Medical Center.

Chaikind, who sees many of the estimated 1,900 Pre-to-Three families each year at local clinics, called the program "our arm into the community and the family."

Operating on a $5 million annual budget and funded largely by county health and Medi-Cal funds, along with tobacco tax money and grants, Pre-to-Three received approval Tuesday to hire another staff member.

The new position will be paid for from a $200,000 grant from the Lucile Packard Foundation and should be hired in the coming weeks, Hansell said.

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