The Governor’s Office for Children and Families and the Georgia Department of Public Health are partnering together to administer the Great Start Georgia (GSG) program, which was launched Jan. 7 by Georgia first lady Sandra Deal.
Great Start Georgia is an initiative designed to identify all expectant parents, children birth to 5 years, and their families in a community to determine what support and services are needed.
The initiative is based on the belief that all families can benefit from support during the period before and after the birth of a child, especially during the early years of life. Below Great Start Georgia Executive Director Katie Jo Ballard speaks with The Champion about the program and how it will affect DeKalb County residents.
What is Great Start Georgia designed to accomplish?
The system is designed to provide a check-in with families by using well-trained staff to see how things are going; provide basic parenting support including general information on pregnancy and the early childhood period; and a community resource guide with contact information. Staff will also ask about the family’s wishes, needs and resources, and link them with the services they need.
What type of services can Great Start connect families and parents with?
Specific services range from home visiting programs, health care and health care coverage, food and nutrition services, quality child care and early childhood education.
Additionally, interested families and parents may receive workforce training and development, adult literacy and prenatal classes, parenting education, information on child development, safe housing and services such as substance abuse treatment, mental health counseling and access to domestic violence shelters.
What areas in DeKalb County will benefit from Great Start?
The entire county can benefit from some of the GSG services, including the ability to talk with a live person on weekdays and weekends by calling the GSG Information and Referral Center (IRC) Toll-Free number (1-855-707-8277). The IRC has parenting information to share with expectant parents and families of young children.
More services are available to families living in the Scottdale, Clarkston and Decatur areas of DeKalb County. Families in these areas of the county may be eligible for home visiting programs designed to assist parents in providing positive, nurturing environments for their children.
On the Great Start website it states that when needed, more “intensive” services will be provided to families. What are these intensive services?
Intensive services include concentrated or long-term services designed to improve specific outcomes for families, such as pregnancy and birth outcomes in high-risk populations, school readiness, positive parenting, etc.
Additionally, GSG can provide services that address a significant or urgent concern such as domestic violence, mental illness, substance abuse in the home, homelessness, or services that deal with a specific condition or illness such as developmental disabilities and acute medical diseases.
Why was there a need to start this program in Georgia? What are the hopes for the future of this program?
Georgia ranks 37 in overall child well-being, according to the 2012 Kids Count Report, released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Using the definition of “at risk” developed by the Georgia Department of Public Health in 2011, 72 of Georgia’s counties were designated as “at risk.” Using criteria that addressed the capacity and readiness of the county, the Governor’s Office for Children and Families selected seven of the top 25 counties to begin implementation of Great Start Georgia.
The hope is that the GSG system will provide expectant parents, children birth to 5, and their families the opportunity to get a “great start” in life. Research tells us that, without a doubt, the early years last a lifetime and there is so much we can do to help children and families during this time.
How will this program benefit education in Georgia in the long run?
Children are born ready to learn and the early experiences of a child, whether positive or negative, affect the life of that child.
The brain is developing in the early years and the environment in which the child lives influences how the brain is wired. By helping to assure that children come into the world healthy, and have positive relationships with the adults in their lives, and live in safe, nurturing environments, we can make a difference for a lifetime.
Children who have positive experiences in their early lives are more likely to enter school ready to succeed and continue to achieve—academic success is related to more than cognitive development, it includes social-emotional development as well.
Why are home visits such an important aspect of the program?
There is overwhelming research showing the positive impact of [evidence-based] home visiting. When replicated as designed, these programs produce significant improvements in positive parenting, child development, birth outcomes, school readiness and economic self-sufficiency.
Many families do not have the support from extended family and the community that existed years ago. Also, families often do not know how to provide their children with optimal environments for success. Home visiting programs can help with those things.
Does the Governor’s Office for Children and Families hope to expand this program to make it available to all the counties in the state?
Currently, we have the funds to implement the full system, including evidence-based home visiting, in seven counties. However, we are encouraging other communities to begin building the system, using the resources, services, and supports that they have available in the community and work to develop other services that are needed over time.
The GSG Information and Referral Center is available statewide to link families to resources in their community as needed.
For more information visit www.greatstartgeorgia.org.