Healthy Families staff visit children in their homes


By Sue Cody


Healthy Family 3A vivacious 2-year-old named César scampers to the goodie bag Judi Mahoney brings to his house.


As César’s mother, Luz Pniewski, and Judi discuss benchmarks of his development, he grabs some plush toy ladybugs and sticks them on the metal arm of a chair.


“Look, he remembers they are magnets,” says Judi.


Judi is a Spanish-speaking home visitor with Healthy Families of Columbia and Clatsop Counties. 


Throughout the hour-and-a-half visit, César busies himself finding toys, examining them, giving them to people in his living room. He finds a medical kit and shows me how to use the different instruments.


He is especially interested in my camera and wants to look at the photo display on the back. Looking isn’t enough, he wants to push the buttons and take some photos.


Healthy Families 5Assisting families with young children


Healthy Families is a nonprofit under the Oregon Department of Education that offers free home visits to pregnant women and families with children from birth to 3 years old. Women can enroll while pregnant or up to 90 days after the birth of a child.


Home visiting helps parents bond with their babies to cultivate strong, nurturing relationships. Research shows the program has decreased neglect and child abuse, and has helped children be ready for school.


Healthy Families of Columbia and Clatsop Counties recently hired two home visitors, bringing the total to four. Most are bilingual. Program Manager Sunday Kamppi says the family bonds with the home visitor, who tries to stay with the same family during the three years of involvement in the program.


Staff members teach parenting skills, child development and offer resources.


“We depend on the family to guide us to their needs,” Kamppi says.


For prenatal care, Healthy Families staff makes sure there is a birthing plan in place. They guide women to community resources and supplies, and demonstrate how to connect with the baby.


Home visitors conduct need assessments through a New Baby Questionnaire; Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ) for developmental screening; and ASQSE for social and emotional screening.


The free home visits are for people within 138 percent of the poverty line or who qualify for the Oregon Health Plan and have two risk factors.


Risk factors include:

           • Trouble paying expenses

           • Low education level

           • Teen parenting

           • Postpartum depression

           • Need for community resources

           • Drug or alcohol dependence

           • No prenatal care

           • Three children under the age of 5


The curriculum is based on two evidence-based programs, “Growing Great Kids” and “Parents as Teachers.” Both have proven effective in preventing child abuse and neglect.


Helping parents in the formative stages of a child’s development can lead to early interventions where necessary. Public Health nurses, WIC, Head Start, Clatsop Community Action, Northwest Parenting and other social services collaborate to support healthy families.


These programs mesh with The Way to Wellville’s focus on emotional wellness and early childhood education.


Healthy Families 4An active 2-year-old


While César is exploring toys and rolling on the floor with his sister, Judi and Luz are speaking Spanish and filling out forms assessing César’s development in language, movement, eating, social interactions, etc.


“César is doing really well,” says Judi, after asking Luz about his verbal skills. He is starting to put two or more words together to form sentences.


“He is trying to pronounce every word he hears,” Luz says. He watches everyone and copies everything. She says he loves to explore things and see how they work – especially pushing buttons, like turning on the TV.


César can follow directions, his mother says. When he is hungry, he finds his place and sits at the table.


Still, there are times when he throws a temper tantrum when he doesn’t get what he wants. Judi assures Luz that at this age it is normal when he is frustrated. She says this is the child’s way to show emotions when they don’t have the words to express themselves. She offers Luz tips on how to change the situation.


“Growing Great Kids” helps identify the different emotions such as impatience, powerlessness, jealousy, anger, frustration and exhaustion and how to respond to them. It promotes E-Parenting, parenting with empathy.


Some suggestions are:

           • Identify what the child is experiencing.

           • Say something about it – “Oh, I see you are tired. I am too.”

           • Do something about it to help support the child – give him a hug or read him a book.


Judi says “Whining, screaming, biting and hitting are normal, but unacceptable.” It is important to teach the child words to express their feelings.


After many more suggestions on creating positive behavior, Luz says she is grateful for the help in understanding what César is going through so she can help him.


“How do you feel about the Healthy Family visits?” I ask Luz.


She raises her arms, shows me some muscle and says, “I feel like a great mom!”


Referral forms for those who are pregnant or have a child younger than 3 months old, may be obtained by calling Judi Mahoney at 503-325-4455.