A new state agency that aims to help children under 5 years of age receive quality health care will begin in July to spend this year’s allotment of $438,000 for Gila County.
First Things First awards grants based on objectives set by regional councils, one of which in Gila County is expanding dental care to young children and pregnant women. Unsolicited grants are not accepted.
“If you go to school and your teeth hurt, you’re not going to succeed in school,” said First Things First Regional Coordinator Eva Cook.
Established through a 2006 voters’ initiative, First Things First has 31 regional councils that establish local priorities and determine how to spend the money that comes through an 80-cent tobacco tax.
“Our organization is important because we will help children birth through 5 — that’s our target population — all across the county start kindergarten healthy and ready to learn,” Cook said. “I think these services are very important, especially in the times that we’re seeing now,” she added. “Families have to make very hard choices on how they spend their money.”
First Things First dispersed the money among regions based on the number of children under 5 living in each community, with extra consideration for those living in poverty.
In 2004, 18 percent of families living in the county were living at or below federal poverty levels, compared to 14 percent statewide, according to the regional council’s Needs And Assets Report, which can be found on the Web site, www.azftf.gov.
Gila County’s 11-member board has two vacancies, and members are divided evenly between the Globe and Payson areas.
The council meets every third Monday, and locations rotate between the supervisor’s hearing room in Globe and the Payson Police Department. The next meeting is March 16, from noon to 2 p.m. in the Globe.
“We’re trying to keep it balanced,” Cook said. “We want to represent the whole county.”
The Gila Regional Partnership Council has established five objectives, including increasing access to dentists and tests to ensure kids are developing appropriately cognitively and visually, among other things.
The agency wants to help 1,000 children from 2 years old to 4 years old and 100 pregnant women gain increased access to dental screenings, but also offer education and help with enrolling in health insurance.
A $5,000 regional study of oral health needs would examine the best way of spending $30,000 the agency has to address those needs.
Roughly $96,000 will be spent on scholarships through a program called Teacher Education and Compensation Helps to help professionals in early childhood-related fields further their education.
The agency will also help educate parents on childhood development with Arizona Parent Kits.
Cook has held forums throughout the county to gather community input on the quality and access of care.