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Westerly Children At Risk Report Released (3-25-10)

Westerly Infant & Child Health Partnership spent two years surveying parents, providers, clergy, and residents about probable causes and possible solutions

Westerly teen girls are three times more likely to have babies as their counterparts elsewhere in Washington County, Westerly women are nearly fifty percent more likely to delay seeking health care during their pregnancies, and area pantries are reporting record numbers of families seeking help.

Westerly Children at Risk is the summary report of two years of discussions, surveys, and interviews with local parents, social service providers, clergy, school personnel, residents, and other experts about probable causes and possible solutions to the three challenges. The Westerly Infant & Child Health Partnership, a subcommittee of the Washington County Coalition for Children (WCCC), gathered the material.

“The statistics themselves aren’t up for debate,” notes Susan Orban, WCCC coordinator. “We asked residents and area professionals why Westerly continues to have higher rates than all the other towns in Washington County and the state as a whole. What are the underlying issues?”

“Every one of these issues has difficult implications. Teen pregnancies limit learning and lifetime earnings; the young parents seldom have the supports or skills they need to raise children well. Delayed or no prenatal care increases the likelihood of poor child outcomes and other complications. And food insecurity can affect everything from a child’s ability to pay attention in school to increased medical costs.” Orban said the Partnership (with funding from the American Academy of Pediatrics) collected and analyzed:

  • Interviews with a wide range of community stakeholders
  • Surveys of local residents over age 18
  • Discussions with parents, school personnel, social service providers, and clergy
  • Research of model programs and approaches that might be adapted/replicated to address needs in Westerly.

Increasing poverty, lack of services top concerns. Prenatal care improving.

Orban said respondents identified poverty as the key issue. “Many people we spoke to cited increasing poverty as the primary factor underlying the current health and nutrition issues in Westerly. Once a fairly homogeneous, “sleepy tourist town,” they noted Westerly has become more economically disparate and is now comprised of the “have’s” and “have not’s.”

Additionally, respondents worry, with single or both parents working, children are often left unsupervised for long periods.

Many people cited various services as either lacking or insufficient, including:

  • Public transportation
  • Character development programs in the lower grades
  • Sex education
  • Youth programming.

Orban said additional services for prenatal care offered a bright spot in the findings. “Since we began our study, rates of delayed prenatal care in Westerly have fallen significantly, from 15.9% (1998-2002) to 11.1% (2003-2007).” She attributed the change to Westerly obstetricians no longer requiring RIte Care enrollment prior to a woman’s first appointment.

Recommendations include greater community awareness

Surveys identified that eligible families don’t always take advantage of programs available to them. “Area clergy and professionals assert many eligible families are unaware of public benefits (e.g. RIte Care, Food Stamps, WIC, FIP, LIHEAP) nor the local social services and food pantries that may help them,” Westerly Children At Risk states. Westerly has no Social Services Department, so residents have no local site to learn about available community resources or to get assistance making connections with needed services…[S]ome families find it impossible to deal with the bureaucracy of complex state programs.”

In many cases, people contend, Westerly residents don’t know the extent of the problems, and would respond if they were. “Participants maintain most residents are unaware of the growing poverty and hunger among working families in Westerly. They would be surprised that the WARM Shelter has several teen parents currently living in a motel, for example. Those we spoke to believed Westerly residents would be moved to take action to help if they were made aware of the issues.”

Detailed reports of the findings can be found on our Reports page using link to left. For a copy of Westerly Children At Risk, click below.

Attached Files: Westerly_Children_At_Risk_Report