July 25, 2003

Community Health Workers Make Housecalls

By Esmeralda Servin

From her office in San Diego, Maria Barraza is armed with pen in hand and ready to take down the next appointment for one of her daily house calls—a house call that usually leads to a three-year relationship with the family, she said.

As a community health worker for the Parents as Teachers program, Barraza serves the predominantly Latino communities in Mid-City.

“It helps that I speak the language,” said Barraza, whose primary language is Spanish. Equipped with 10 years of experience, Barraza visits homes prepared to share her knowledge on the subject of child development.

Though most of her training involves topics such as dental hygiene, immunizations, or lead poisoning, she is also prepared to handle other issues that may come up during the visit.

“But sometimes all of the little secrets come out,” said Barraza. “We’re workers, but most of time we establish friendships. Once we establish a rapport with the family, we learn that there are other issues that need attention.”

If someone has a problem with domestic violence or child abuse, she is able to refer the individual to the proper health and social services agency.

Barraza also refers families to low-income medical or dental programs—a much-needed service considering many of the families lack health insurance.

The Parents as Teachers (PAT) program, began as a pilot project in 1981 in St. Louis, Mo. It was created to put an emphasis on parent education and family support, in order to enhance a child’s development from birth to three years of age.

Now, the program has been modified to serve the low-income, multicultural population of Mid-City. PAT is a nationally acclaimed, home-based prevention program that empowers parents to give their children the best possible start in life.

“We visit mothers with children or pregnant mothers,” said Barraza. We visit grandmothers too. Sometimes the parents are at work and the grandmother is the primary caretaker of the child.”

Community outreach workers for PAT must complete many hours of training before the home-visits take place. During the first year of training, 25 hours of community service must be achieved. The second year of training involves 15 hours of community service and a third year requires 10 hours of service, Barraza said.

Most of the community service involves fieldwork related to topics in child development.

According to Barraza, the program has increased in popularity just by word of mouth. Mothers often times refer their friends to the program because of the success that they’ve encountered, she said.

“We guide them and let them know what to expect—depending on the age of the child,” said Baraza.

The home-visits, which usually last one to two hours, are a great way to sit down and talk to the mothers in their own environment.

The counseling sessions can begin as early as the birth of the child and last until the child is three.

One mother enrolled in the program, “Sylvia,” has benefited enormously from a year of home visits and counseling from Barraza. “Sylvia strug-gled with domestic violence in her life and has seen dramatic changes as a result of the PAT program.

“Pinch me—I think I’m dreaming,” said “Sylvia, in reference to the PAT program and its services. (Sylvia’s story is recounted on Homestart’s web site, www.home-start.org). It’s stories like “Sylvia’s” that emphasize the need for programs in the community like the efforts of PAT.

In June, the final farewell is marked by a graduation celebration, where mothers celebrate the accomplishments they’ve achieved due in part to the program.

But the learning doesn’t stop there. The child is then referred to Head Start—a program aimed at increasing school readiness of young children in low-income families.

The Parents As Teacher program serves community members living within the Mid-City boundaries. For more information on how you can participate in the program, contact Maria Barraza at (619) 281-2670.

Servin is an interen with the San Diego EXPORT Center, focusing on Minority Health and Health Disparities. The EXPORT Center is a community/university partnership for community outreach, health education, research and training. EXPORT is a colobration between SDSU, UCSD, and Point Loma Nazarene University.

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