County Accepts Grant For At-Risk Children

First Things First funds will help families with struggling preschoolers

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Gila County will get a $155,000 grant to help at-risk youth from the state’s First Things First program, a sometimes controversial sales tax program designed to improve early childhood education.

The voter-established First Things First provides programs to help preschool-aged children receive the quality education, health care and family support they need to arrive at school healthy and ready to succeed.

The program generates some $325 million annually from a sales tax surcharge approved by the voters in 2001. The Legislature in 2010 put on the ballot a measure that would have diverted that money instead into the general fund, but voters rejected the change.

Gila County accepted the grant at its Sept. 18 meeting, although several members of the board of supervisors in the past have criticized the program for spending too much money on research and not enough money on services. Others have questioned the division of the grants between north and south county.

The grant approved last week included funding for 70 children, 46 in the Payson area and 31 in the Globe area, according to Michael O’Driscoll of the county health and emergency services department. O’Driscoll made the presentation on the award to the county supervisors.

Based on the Healthy Steps for Young Children, services will likely include:

• Visits for the children to doctors and nurse practitioners.

• Social worker home visits to help parents deal with infants and make their homes safer.

• Checkups that consider child development and family factors, as part of a health visit at home or in medical offices.

• Help for parents in managing common behavioral concerns related to early learning, fussiness, sleep, feeding, discipline, toilet training, etc.

• Referrals for extra help from community groups.

O’Driscoll told the supervisors the money will allow Gila County to conduct home visits at birth and key developmental stages to support families in raising healthy, successful children. The county will implement the Ages and Stages On-Line Enterprise Screening including parent access to ensure that all children receive timely developmental and social emotional screenings.

Gila County District 3 Supervisor Shirley Dawson said she hopes the county health staff will partner with existing organizations to provide services to families with young children. In the past, Dawson has criticized several First Things First programs, saying the group spends too much on studies and not enough on direct services.

District One Supervisor Tommie Martin has also expressed concern about all the studies funded with First Things First money.

O’Driscoll said the program will work closely with everyone offering services to the same target group, including the various literacy programs in the county.

He added that 75 to 80 percent of the program work would be in the field, working directly with families.

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