Benefits Seen From Early Childhood Programs

July 24, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — Early childhood is the focus of new programming announced today that intends to connect children from birth to age 5 with health care, community services and trained child care.

First Steps is a three-pronged program from the Early Childhood Children’s Commission. The program, funded by the Heart of West Michigan United Way, the Steelcase and Frey foundations and the state program Early Children Investment Corp., has been in the works since the commission was formed three years ago, Executive Director Ben Emdin said.

First Steps includes:

  • Establishing a “health care home” for children, aimed at cutting through logistical and cultural barriers to health care and reducing the need for hospitalization and emergency room usage. This program, involving 14,000 to 15,000 children and Grand Rapids’ three hospitals, is expected to be launched this summer.

  • In-hospital visits for every first-time parent and follow-up home visits within the first few weeks of the child’s life, with information on local services and how to reach them. “Welcome Home, Baby” is expected to begin as a pilot project late this year or in early 2009.

  • Professional development, training and coaching to child caregivers from licensed providers to family members and neighbors, and establishment of a quality-rating system.

Those involved include Doug DeVos and Kate Pew Wolters as commission co-chairs. Members include Calvin College President Gaylen Byker; West Michigan Whitecaps CEO & Managing Partner Lew Chamberlin; Schuler’s Books & Music Co-Owner Cecile Fehsenfeld; Dr. Khan Nedd, medical director, Infusion Associates; former Grand Rapids Community College President Juan Olivarez; and educators and community volunteers Betty Burton Groce, Sue Jandernoa, Kathy Muir and Karen O’Donovan.

Ex-officio members include Steelcase Foundation President Susan Broman; Great Start Collaborative of Kent County Chair Lynne Ferrell; United Way President Bob Haight; Kent Intermediate School District Superintendent Kevin Konarska; Carol Paine-McGovern, chair of the Kent County Family & Children’s Coordinating Council; and Frey Foundation President Milt Rohwer.

The focus on early childhood development makes sense to Chamberlin.

“When I was invited to meet with the Early Childhood commission, I kind of jumped at the chance,” Chamberlin said.

“What they proposed really made a lot of sense to me — developing a holistic approach to early childhood issues, systemic and thorough, rather than dealing with it in these separate silos.”

Emdin said the budget for First Steps is $1.5 million, including $300,000 from the ECIC public-private partnership, which comprises state, federal and foundation funding. The Steelcase and Frey foundations and the Heart of West Michigan United Way, which is now emphasizing early childhood in its programs and funding, also have contributed. 

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