By Patrick Winderl
A program that provides prenatal and postnatal care to women and infants will begin soon.
The Early Head Start program will offer education and health care services to low- income families in Hill County.
Early Head Start will focus on care for pregnant mothers and children less than 3 years old.
The program, funded by a federal grant, arrives at a time when similar state programs face funding cutbacks. The Montana Initiative for the Abatement of Mortality in Infants, or the MIAMI program, currently provides similar services. It is expected to lose state funding in the upcoming legislative session.
Cindy Smith, director of nursing for the Hill County Health Department, said Hill County needs programs that are focused on younger children.
"For our older kids, we have the Boys & Girls Club, and they have done a wonderful job," she said. "Unfortunately, there is a large gap in the programs that are available for younger kids."
The Early Head Start program will be based in a new center at the Human Resources Development Council building. The center is scheduled to open on Jan. 13. The program will begin home-based care next week.
Head Start, a program that provides similar care to 3- to 5 year-olds, will not relocate. Head Start is located in Highland Park, and has been operating in Havre since 1965.
Smith said the Early Head Start program "performs a variety of activities that teach and stimulate babies and educate parents."
Early Head Start program director Terry Hanson said the program is tailored to meet the needs of the community.
"One of the things we really looked at was some areas for improvement in health care," she said. "We discovered that there was a need for infant and toddler care. The Early Head Start program provides exactly that."
Hanson said the program will become increasingly important as the state cuts funding to other programs.
"We are really fortunate to have this program," she said. "Because we operate on a federal grant, Early Head Start is not threatened by state cutbacks. As other programs are eliminated, an even greater portion of prenatal and infant health care will be performed by this program.
Hanson said the grant was awarded by the Department of Health and Human Services, and Early Head Start received $500,000 as an early startup fund.
She said the program has 12 full-time employees, including five center-based teachers, two home-based teachers, a registered nurse, a family community advocate, a child development specialist, a family services specialist, a food program specialist, and her position as program director.
The center will only be able to assist a limited number of families, she said.
"We have 40 spots available," Smith said. "We have the resources to serve 16 babies in the center, 16 with home-based care, and eight babies with other child-care providers."
Applications are available at HRDC.
"It is really wonderful to have a program like this," Hanson said. "The community will be better because of it."