Georgia to expand program that supports new and expectant mothers

Georgia health officials on Monday launched a new statewide effort that provides in-home visits for at-risk families and a range of other programs to promote early childhood health and development.

The new effort would expand the Great Start Georgia program, which pays for home-visiting to needy families in seven counties, including DeKalb, throughout the state. Through the program, funded partly by $5 million in annual grants, counselors help expectant and new mothers with health and education tips and other advice.

“If you need help anywhere in this state, you can get help,” said Sandra Deal, the governor’s wife and a champion of the program. “We’re so thankful our different groups are working together to give you help.”

There were 130,000 babies born in Georgia in 2011, and more than 37,000 of them were identified as “at risk,” such as a premature birth or an unwed teenage mother, said Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, the head of the Department of Public Health. She said those families are particularly in need of support and care before and after the birth of a child.

“Through these programs, we hope to ensure that every baby born in Georgia and their families are linked to crucial services,” Fitzgerald said.

Kirena Gallagher of Athens was a 19-year-old single mother who quickly realized that her baby-sitting experience was poor preparation for motherhood when she signed up for the program in Athens. Gallagher, who was part of an event Monday announcing the expansion of Great Start Georgia, said the in-home visits gave her a reality check about how to be a good parent.

Now her son is a thriving third-grader, and she’s an advocate for women’s health at an Athens nonprofit.

“Trying to make a difference really does make a difference,” she said.

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