By Araceli Flores
Since 2001, BCFS Health and Human Services’ Healthy Start program has worked to decrease disparities in access to maternal and child healthcare by providing community-based medical care and case management services to residents in “colonias.”
The term “colonia,” in Spanish means a community or neighborhood. The Office of the Secretary of State defines a “colonia” as a residential area along the Texas-Mexico border that may lack some of the most basic living necessities, such as potable water and sewer systems, electricity, paved roads, and safe and sanitary housing.
Healthy Start is a nationally recognized program of BCFS Health and Human Services that provides medical care and case management for women who are pregnant or raising a child under the age of two for the purpose of reducing infant mortality, preventing child abuse and assisting families in meeting basic health needs (nutrition, housing and psychosocial support).
Kassandra lives in a colonia along the Texas-Mexico border. Spanish is her first language, and although she struggled learning English when she started school, against all odds, she passed her classes and made it to high school.
Kassandra married her high school sweetheart, and soon after was expecting her first child. Elated by the news, Kassandra and her husband welcomed their baby boy nine months later. With a newborn bundle of joy at home – and all the questions and uncertainty of a first-time mom – she joined the BCFS Health and Human Services Healthy Start Laredo (HSL) program.
BCFS conducted home visits with Kassandra to provide one-on- one parenting classes facilitated by a case manager, including lessons on how to properly nurture infants and care for them as they grow into toddlers and preschoolers.
In addition, BCFS connected Kassandra to group parenting classes and community services for medical care, housing, and food assistance. Through counseling, parenting education and the guidance of her case manager, Kassandra set short-term and long-term goals for the health and stability of her growing family.
“There was a time when I felt like just staying at home with my baby, and school was not a priority. Healthy Start helped me determine what was important for my future and family. Thanks to my BCFS case manager, Erika Garcia, I have come to realize that even though life is not easy, I am able to overcome the challenges and be a successful mother, wife, student, and a future nurse!”
Erica is a single mom who lives in Rio Bravo, Texas. When Erica began BCFS’ Healthy Start Laredo program as an expectant mother, she was so quiet and shy that she rarely spoke, even during the long car rides to her prenatal doctor visits with the case manager. She’d stare out the window in silence, leaving her case manager perplexed — but patient. One day, Erica finally opened up. She confided in her case manager that she felt alone and uncertain about her pregnancy and her future. She had fallen into depression.
BCFS provided Erica with information about depression and referred her to a therapist. She began attending HSL health education classes, which helped her overcome her shyness by interacting with classmates. Erica’s disposition began to change. Now, she is more confident and rarely misses class. With a little help, Erica has overcome her fear and feels hopeful about her future, even in the face of obstacles.
“BCFS was concerned about my health, and most importantly, they helped me feel better about myself with the health education classes offered and the home visits by my case manager, Maria Arellano.” — ERICA
Ana was eighteen years old when she first arrived in Laredo, Texas in 2004. Frightened, alone, and seven months pregnant, she crossed the Rio Grande River from Mexico to reunite with her baby’s father awaiting them in Laredo to build a better life.
Several weeks later, Ana gave birth to a baby girl in Laredo. Born with a dislocated hip, Ana’s baby had one leg shorter than the other. Ana believes it was God’s plan for her to give birth in the United States where her baby could receive proper surgery and medical care she didn’t have access to back on her ranch in Mexico.
Ana is grateful for all the help her family has received from BCFS Healthy Start. In fact, all four babies Ana has had since her firstborn, she worked with BCFS Healthy Start to stay healthy and join in the health education and parenting classes. Ana has evolved from being a soft-spoken teen mom to a young adult and mother of five children.
“This program is really good because it has helped me learn how to raise my children with their classes and advice. It helps me learn that even though life may not be easy, a person can be successful if you are determined. On a personal note, I have learned from them and have grown as an individual, woman and mother.” — ANA
As is common in colonias, Ema’s home does not have running water. Her family visits a water pump several times a week to bring back clean water for bathing, laundry, cooking, and for washing hands before meals. Ema shares one small mobile home with many members of her extended family. Even thiugh the small trailer has been the only home Ema has known since emigrating from Mexico as a small child, Ema views life in the United States as an opportunity to give her two daughters a better life.
Ema joined the Healthy Start program in 2013 when she learned she was pregnant with her first child — while still in high school. Ema was fearful she would be unable to graduate, especially since frequent doctors’ visits conflicted with her school schedule. But BCFS provided transportation to and from her appointments to cut down on her absences and help keep her focuses on her health and her studied.
Ema attended BCFS’ health education classes on nurturing techniques, healthy sleep patterns, signs of pre-term labor and other first-tim mom necessities. Ema gave birth to a beautiful baby girl and soon earned her high school diploma. She has set her sights on earning a degree in accounting or finance at the local community college.
“The Healthy Start program is helpful in many ways. I have become the mother I always knew I could be. I am always learning new things and now I set goals for myself to keep me focused.” — EMA