Stephanie Schroeder worked with Job and Family Services for a short time before the program was taken over by the Putnam County Educational Service Center, where it is currently located.
By Cortney Mumaugh
OTTAWA - After holding positions as a social workers in other towns, Stephanie Schroeder was excited to hear about a local opening.Schroeder applied for a part-time service coordinator and home visitor position with the Help Me Grow program which was originally housed with Job and Family Services. She admitted that at the time, she did not know much about the program but upon learning about it, knew it was a good fit.
Help Me Grow is primarily geared toward first-time pregnant women or first-time parents with a child less than 6 months old and that have an income of 200 percent or less than the federal poverty level. Programs are also geared for a child under the age of 3 referred with a substantiated case of abuse or neglect and a child under the age of 3 with at least one parent in active military duty. Children with disabilities can also be greatly helped through the program. Help Me Grow provides free screenings, home visits and early intervention to children under the age of 3. For families that qualify, all services are free.
"Once I learned more about (Help Me Grow) I knew it was a perfect fit," said Schroeder. "It sounded like a dynamic and positive program. I've been there ever since." Almost 12 years later, she is still excited to tell people about the program.
Schroeder worked with Job and Family Services for a short time before the program was taken over by the Putnam County Educational Service Center, where it is currently located.
"On average, I see four to six families a day; most of those visits are in their homes because that's where families and children are most comfortable. It's their natural environment. Research shows us that produces better outcomes, in their natural environment versus a clinical setting. I also do outreach at high schools or teen parents and expectant teen parents. Several times a week I am at the high schools," said Schroeder.
When she meets with families and children, Schroeder said she does screenings with the kids, tells parents what to expect next in development for their children and answer any questions the parents might have. Another big asset to parents is Schroeder explaining available community resources for families that need extra assistance.
Schroeder said their main targets are first-time parents with a child less than six months old because that is the best use of the money as parents will learn skills that can be applied to subsequent children. Their guidelines of 200 percent of the federal poverty level allows more families to join and is higher than WIC and food stamps guidelines.
Once a month, throughout the school year, Help Me Grow offers free community screenings. These screenings include hearing, vision, social-emotional, general development, and behavior. Parents or care-givers can set up an appointment. Any child under age 6 can take part in this free event. Parents can also be linked to community resources and have questions answered. Upcoming screenings are Oct. 30 from 1 to 5 p.m. and Nov. 27 from 1 to 4 p.m. Call Ann or Marcie at 419-523-6059 to schedule.
"Word-of-mouth is very big for us," said Schroeder. "Our participants are usually very satisfied with our services so they tell their friends, family and neighbors about it. Usually when a referral comes in, it's a voluntary referral through word-of-mouth. That, to us, speaks highly of our program." Other referrals come from professionals like Job and Family Services, Putnam WIC and doctor's offices. She said mostly commonly, they are giving referrals for speech delay in children.
She also stressed that the window of opportunity, from birth to 6 months, is very small and she hopes more people will take advantage of the programs during that time but coming in before there is a problem. If that window of opportunity is missed and a child is still within the normal range but the parent feels more needs to be done, Help Me Grow can assist. Schroeder said they will offer advice and tips and even offer follow-up visits to make sure every child is still on track.
Schroeder said each child develops at their own pace. If a child is displaying problems with their development, Help Me Grow offers services to help.
There is currently no wait list for families to enroll in Help Me Grow. For more information call toll free 1-877-738-1866 or visit 124 Putnam Parkway in Ottawa.