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OMAHA, Neb. — The breeze blows through the hair of families on a warm, sunny June day; families are scattered between white foldout tables and an adjacent playground while some decorate picture frames to proudly display the hard work these children and families are celebrating.

Celebrations aren’t quite complete without food and especially cake. Colored frosting now colored the tongues of children along with a couple of faces. Photos of happy families are framed, but the fun comes in the shape of gifts, congratulations and balloons.

June marked the graduation for five children and their families who successfully completed the Healthy Families America® (HFA) program.

“The best part of the program was learning about my child’s development,” one family said. “[Nebraska Children’s Home Society] guides and helps you in raising your child.”

One parent shared that their daughter is more outgoing, caring and smart thanks to the in-depth help given through the program.

The evidence-based and voluntary home visiting program was launched through Nebraska Children’s Home Society (NCHS) in 2013.

“As the home visitor and parent build a trusting relationship, they are also working to promote positive parent-child relationships and healthy attachment,” Healthy Families America Supervisor Kelly Pohlman said.

Families are eligible to participate in the program if parents are 19 years or older, live in Douglas County, are at 150 percent of the federal poverty level or lower and mom is pregnant or the family is parenting a newborn who hasn’t turned three-months-old yet.

A home visitor meets with the family for one hour a week until the baby is at least six-months-old. After that, the family could be eligible to begin graduating levels to meet bi-weekly, then monthly, and finally quarterly.

“We did child development activities during our home visits,” a family said. “The most challenging part of the program is finding time to meet, but the best was learning about my child’s development.”

A family can choose to stay with the program until their child turns five years old, and the program comes at absolutely no cost to the family.

“In order to be successful in the program, the family must commit their time to meet each week and actively participate in visits,” Pohlman said. “The home visitor works with each family to set goals and work toward achieving them. The home visitor is there to be a support of the family, answer questions and help connect them to community resources.”

Home visitors use the Growing Great Kids curriculum to work with parents to increase their knowledge of ways to have a healthy pregnancy, understanding of child development and their comfort level in completing age-appropriate activities with their children.

The program is designed to be relationship-based between the home visitor and parent, as well as between the parent and the child.

“We are very relationship-based at the Children and Family Center. We meet families where they are and work with them at their pace. Our specialists have enjoyed implementing this program as it allows them to tailor their approach and the lessons they cover to their families’ needs. They get to see both the parents and children learn and grow,” Pohlman said.

In 2011, the United States Department of Health and Human Services recognized HFA as one of the seven proven home visiting models. It is the only national model that requires its programs to successfully complete a comprehensive accreditation process that is linked to best practice standards, according to Healthy Families America.

“Because of the program, I care for my children better,” an HFA graduate parent said.

The growth families achieved during the program was evident that June evening as children laughed and played nearly endlessly at the Children and Family Center’s playground.

A healthy round of pizza and cupcakes were served before families crafted picture frames to hold their graduation photos. The frames were complete with a magnet to proudly hang on the refrigerator at home.

Festivities were then taken indoors where parents and children received gifts for completing the five-year program.

“Three, two, one!” children counted down as they finally pulled the string to release a sea of balloons. Now, laughter, smiling faces and several multi-colored balloons fill the small room at the Children and Family Center.

According to Pohlman, NCHS is contracted with the state of Nebraska to provide services to 60 families at a time.

Families are referred to the program through many different avenues, including social service agencies, hospital social workers or families themselves.

For more information on Healthy Families America, contact Kelly Pohlman at kpohlman@nchs.org or 402.253.5700.

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