Healthy Steps for Young Children

Maryanne Lanner

Having a baby is a special time for any woman and her family, but it can also be a time for a lot of questions.

What does it mean when my baby won’t stop crying? What are the best steps to toilet training? I’m feeling depressed or overwhelmed, what can I do?

These are all questions that can be answered thanks to a program called Healthy Steps for Young Children.

It is a program in the White Mountains of northeastern Arizona that’s already helped more than 3,200 children and their parents.

“I love kids and I love working with kids,” said DeAnn Davies, director of Early Childhood Outreach for Summit Healthcare in Show Low, Arizona.

Davies has been serving young children and their families in this field for more than 30 years.

“My job has been to identify the gaps and find solutions and that’s pretty much the rural spirit,” Davies said.

Since coming to work in this rural town four years ago, Davies has implemented a national program called Healthy Steps for Young Children.

“Dr. T. Berry Brazelton is fundamental in our work,” Davies said. “His research guides are guiding principles and he says parents come to well-child care visits wanting to know two things: ‘How is my child’s health?’ number one, and number two, ‘How am I doing as a parent?'”

Helping parents answer those questions are the Healthy Steps Specialists.

“Healthy Steps Specialists are the child development specialists who add to the pediatric team,” Davies said. “They will visit with the physicians during well-child exams of children birth through 5 years of age, and they will talk with parents about what parents are doing right.”

Discussing the upcoming developmental stages of their child is just the beginning of the role a Healthy Steps Specialist can play in a family’s life.

They can talk about breastfeeding, find out if mom is feeling depressed or overwhelmed, introduce early literacy activities and help parents understand the importance of creating a healthy home environment.

“So that when the baby is older, they know that there is a safe place for them to go when they feel insecure or feel like they may be threatened in their world,” Davies said. “They have that relationship with their primary caregiver that says, ‘I’ve got you. You’re safe.'”

From well-child care visits to home visits, parent support groups are also a big part of the Healthy Steps for Young Children program.

“They attend a play group and lots of the behaviors happen in those play groups,” Davies said. “So it provides us the opportunity to talk about those teachable moments and why their child might be exhibiting that behavior and what the appropriate response would be for that behavior.”

The program is giving hope for a better future for the children in the White Mountains of northeastern Arizona.

“When you get on board and support a child that first day of life through first five years of life, you have just ensured a better future for our entire community,” Davies said.

Healthy Steps for Young Children is funded by the First Things First Navajo/Apache Regional Partnership Council.

The cities in this region include Show Low, Springerville/Eagar and Heber/Overgaard.

Click here for more information about the program.

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