`Success by 6' programs target kids' bodies, minds

Plans tailored to fit 7 city neighborhoods

July 26, 2000|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

After two years of planning, a partnership of Baltimore agencies formally launched a broad program across seven neighborhoods yesterday to improve the health of city children, starting when they are in the womb.

The program, called Baltimore's Success by 6 Partnership, also will aim to prepare children to learn in school by the time they are 6 years old.

"The intent is, Baltimore will be known as a place where you're lucky to have your baby born," said Hathaway Ferebee, executive director of the Safe and Sound campaign, a sponsor of the effort.

The partnership, which begins with $5 million in initial grants and up to $3.6 million annually for five years, will have much work to do. Despite improvements in recent years, Baltimore is one of the worst U.S. cities, statistically, for newborn babies.

A 1999 study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that of 50 major cities, Baltimore had the highest rates of babies born underweight or prematurely in 1997.

The partnership hopes to turn that around, and it celebrated its formal start yesterday with free admission to the Baltimore Zoo for about 1,000 par- ents, children and neighborhood leaders.

Speaking there, Mayor Martin O'Malley pointed to a corner of a zoo pavilion, trying to quiet a small sea of children long enough to note a bird's nest in the rafters.

"None of those birds are going to leave that nest until they're ready to what?" he asked.

"Fly!" the children responded.

"What Success by 6 does is make sure ... that when children go to school, they're ready to fly," O'Malley said.

That won't be as easy as it may sound.

"The indicators are indicators that do not get changed in one or two years," said Dr. Peter Beilenson, director of the city health department.

The department is contributing nurses to the Success by 6 program, who will visit homes with young children or babies on the way.

But in three to five years, Beilenson said, the city could see a measurable difference in the health of its infants. He said the Success by 6 strategy of bringing disparate agencies together could hold more promise than previous efforts.

"Home visiting can make a lot of difference," Beilenson said. "If you've got good, dedicated people doing it, they can follow up on a whole host of issues."

Each of the seven neighborhoods participating in the program - Historic East Baltimore north and south; Park Heights; Mondawmin/Penn North; Southwest Consortium; Sandtown-Winchester/Harlem Park and Druid Heights/Upton/Reservoir Hill - has come up with its own plan to target families.

The program as a whole plans to rely on a combination of outreach that extends both to homes and neighborhood centers.

Success by 6, begun in Minneapolis in 1988, has spread to more than 200 communities across the country, with the United Way as primary coordinator.

The United Way of Central Maryland has pledged $10 million for Success by 6 initiatives over five years - its largest investment in one program to date. Bank of America, which has contributed $50 million to Success by 6 nationwide, earmarked its second-largest gift - $600,000 over two years - for Baltimore.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Family League of Baltimore City, Friends of the Family, the Safe and Sound Campaign and the state and city governments also have committed money and services.

Each neighborhood will receive between $250,000 and $600,000 in the first year.

Kathleen Carey, a volunteer at a Healthy Start program in Sandtown-Winchester, is hoping Success by 6 will work. As a teacher at Northeast Middle School, she said she sees eighth-graders whose untapped potential has limited their future.

"The sooner they get to children, the better off they'll be," Carey said. "I believe there is a correlation between where they start and where they are able to go."

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