By LISA CAPOBIANCO
Bristol Community Organization helps pregnant women ensure they receive the prenatal care they need through the Husky/Healthy Start program. The organization also helps pay for tuition and training for Head Start parents to obtain better jobs and to become self-sufficient through the Head Start Employment program.
Although both of these programs have helped BCO maintain its mission of helping eliminate or alleviate the causes and effects of poverty in the greater Bristol area, they face a challenge under Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2016, which includes reductions in social services.
Under the governor’s proposed budget, BCO could lose funds needed to run both programs, said Tom Morrow, executive director of BCO.
Besides affecting Healthy Start and Head Start Employment, the proposed state budget would eliminate money from the Human Services Infrastructure, which serves as the core state funds BCO receives to pay for administration of the agency. Morrow said those funds also are used as match for federal funds and for leveraging other funds BCO has. As BCO’s total budget is $5 million, this is a 25-fold increase on the state investment of $189,945.
Morrow said BCO uses that money in a variety of ways, including salaries for administrators, the rent for the property, liability insurance, etc.
“We use it in a lot of ways that are central to the administration of everything we do here,” said Morrow.
The total loss of funds for BCO is $447,412 if the budget is approved as is.
Morrow said BCO has faced other reductions in the past but never to this extent, and has encouraged the community to contact their local legislators to help restore those funds.
“This has probably been the most devastating cuts I’ve ever seen,” said Morrow, adding how clients and other social service agencies have written letters in support of restoring those funds.
The Healthy Start program aims to reduce infant mortality and morbidity as well as low birth weight in Connecticut, to increase and improve health care coverage/insurance and access for children and eligible pregnant women. The program provides pregnant women who need HUSKY insurance and/or Healthy Start services with support, information and referral services. These women also receive prenatal workshops from the Bristol Hospital Exchange Club Parent and Child Center.
“It’s one person, but it’s many clients who would be affected by this,” said Morrow.
“They would not be able to access service in the way they do now if they didn’t have the Healthy Start program, an agency that is accessible to them like BCO,” said Tina LeFrancois, a case worker at BCO who runs the Healthy Start program.
Through Healthy Start, pregnant women receive application assistance for Husky, as well as advocacy for the Access Health CT online portal.
LeFrancois said many clients are not able to travel to the Department of Social Services so they depend on BCO which helps them fill out applications.
She added many customers have a literacy deficiency, so they feel more comfortable obtaining services with the help of an advocate.
“It’s overwhelming for them to navigate any of these services on their own,” said LeFrancois, adding how the program has helped homeless individuals. “They feel more comfortable having an advocate assist them throughout all of these processes.”
From providing housing assistance to educational resources to transportation assistance, LeFrancois said the program goes beyond just helping pregnant women get health insurance.
For instance, BCO partners with the Bristol Board of Education during the Ages in Stages screening for children from ages two months to five years old. The screening assesses children’s fine motor skills, problem-solving skills, gross motor skills and communication skills
In addition, Healthy Start tracks the mother throughout her pregnancy and after the baby is born to refer other services, including Birth to Three.
“There’s still services that could be used once the baby is born,” said LeFrancois, adding how she transfers clients to other programs they need, including energy assistance.
Meanwhile, there are currently 17 parents in the Head Start Employment program, which began last fall. The program has allowed some parents to return to school and finish their education, while allowing others to start their education.
For parents Nicole Dort-Williams and Stephanie Miranda, the program has served as an opportunity to pursue their passion for health care.
Enrolled at Tunxis Community College since January, Williams plans to become a certified nurse’s assistant, and enjoys her classes.
“I wanted to get into home healthcare,” said Williams. “[The program] has impacted us greatly.”
Also enrolled at Tunxis while working at Bristol Hospital, Miranda plans to pursue a career in nursing. The mother of three, Miranda said the program not only helped her go back to school, but also provided childcare for her children while taking classes.
“I’ve been working in the health care field for about eight years already, and I just want to move up,” said Miranda, calling the proposed budget cuts unfortunate. “I like to help people.”
Amy Caucci, director of Head Start, said the program pays for tuition, books, uniform requirements gas cards and/or bus passes as well as childcare for parents enrolled in classes. From health care to early childhood education and social work, to business, parents have been able to explore the career area of their choice through the program.
“This has probably been the best grant that we’ve received,” said Caucci, adding how parents are succeeding in the program. “We’ve seen a lot of different opportunities in the time I’ve been here—this being one of the most successful.”
“There are so many obstacles that our families have to overcome in order to gain that job or have that education,” added Jamie Cullen, assistant family service coordinator for Head Start. “This grant has been able to kind of overcome those obstacles.”
By LISA CAPOBIANCO