Colorado State University receives grant to help Head Start families better access health care

Colorado State University received a $1.2 million grant from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to improve health care for Head Start children in Colorado. The grant aims to arm families with information about how to improve their health and to better access health care.

The grant will provide education to families in both Spanish and English languages to help parents better understand health care, health warning signs, when to take a child to the doctor, and the benefits of nutrition and exercise. Professors working under the grant hope to reduce the number of unnecessary trips to the emergency room, reduce parent’s stress over health care, improve the health and well-being of families, reduce medical expenses and reduce the number of parental sick days and days children miss in Head Start.

"We know that the effects of poor health early in life are difficult to alleviate," said Lise Youngblade, head of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies and the principal investigator of the grant. "One of the biggest factors in the development of poor health is inadequate access to health care. And not understanding how to access and use our complicated health-care system can be costly to families, costly to society and to the health of members of families."

The program will help families with children in Head Start locate and use proper health reference materials; recognize health warning signs in their children; reduce their response time to early signs of illness; understand common childhood illnesses such as colds, fever, cough, ear infections and influenza; and distinguish among symptoms that require a visit to a doctor from those that can be cared for at home.  A key focus of the program is to promote the importance of routine and preventive care.

By improving families’ understanding of these issues, the group believes the project will reduce health care costs for families and Medicaid and reduce parental stress by helping parents make informed decisions. By working with the Colorado Medical Home Initiative, the group also hopes to increase connections between the health care and educational systems that support children and their families.

Families will receive training in Spanish or English in 50 common illnesses, injuries and health problems. They will also learn ways to improve communication and relationships with medical professionals. Parents also will receive information about encouraging their children to eat healthily and exercise through Colorado State University Extension specialists in Food Science and Human Nutrition.

Culturally sensitive trainings for parents will initially begin in Weld County, with further expansion in Denver and the Southern Ute tribal program in La Plata County over the course of the 3-year project. The grant will also develop collaboration among the university and Head Start, the Colorado Medical Home Initiative, Medicaid, and the Department of Public Health and Environment to improve communication among systems that care for children.

Colorado’s growth rate puts pressure on state and local systems that serve children, and most of the state has a federal designation of being medically underserved. About 12 percent of the state’s children live in poverty, including about 28 percent of Hispanic children younger than 17. Unemployment and persistent poverty also impact tribal populations, with 31 percent of tribal members living in poverty.

The grant that supports Project HOME, or Healthcare Options Made Easy, was awarded by the Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families to the Department of Human Development and Family Studies in the College of Applied Human Sciences. Karen Barrett, professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, is co-principal investigator of the grant.