Helping Children to Thrive: Children's Health Investment Program
It’s afternoon at NaQuita White’s home in Norfolk’s St. Paul’s Quadrant. Jeremiah, 3, is looking for a snack while Jaylen, 1, tests the limits of his newfound walking skills, and Jayse, 4 months, takes in the scene from his mother’s arms.
Over the next hour, NaQuita keeps a watchful eye on her children as she visits with Sonya Sandoval, a parent educator from the Children’s Health Investment Program of South Hampton Roads (CHIP). Topics for the day include NaQuita’s application for a driver’s license, treatment plans for Jaylen’s eczema and her success breastfeeding the baby.
“I’m really excited he’s eating so well,” NaQuita says, pointing proudly to Jayse’s plump legs. “I tried breastfeeding with my other kids, but I gave up. I had encouragement this time to keep going.”
Keeping up healthy practices like breastfeeding is the type of positive, measurable change CHIP strives for with its Parents as Teachers outreach. In 2018, 14 CHIP parent educators and six registered nurses conducted more than 5,000 home visits in South Hampton Roads.
A 2018 Hampton Roads Community Foundation grant made it possible for CHIP to hire a full-time educator for families in St. Paul’s – an area of aging public housing slated for revitalization. The grant came from unrestricted funds and the Ethel T. Jones Fund that helps children and youth in Norfolk.
Sonya, who was a single mom at age 18, volunteered and interned at CHIP before being hired as a parent educator after graduating from Old Dominion University in 2015. She visits weekly with families like the Whites who are either expecting babies or have children up to age seven. Most families learn about CHIP through health care professionals, social workers or friends. Participation is always voluntary and free for families.
Sonya works “side-by-side with the parents, acting as their advocates but also as their partners,” she explains. “I’m not telling them what to do or how to raise their children, but I am telling them that they don’t have to be scared or ashamed to ask for help – that resources and support exist.”
NaQuita says that “knowing Sonya is coming by every week to check in on us is really nice. Sometimes, it’s just good to have someone understanding to talk to.”
Pediatricians founded CHIP 30 years ago in the Roanoke Valley to combat the long-term health consequences that affect children in vulnerable circumstances. In the early 1990s, the program expanded to Hampton Roads, where the need for services continues to grow. Annual household income for many families CHIP serves is just $10,000.
Trish O’Brien, president and CEO of CHIP of South Hampton Roads, said the organization works hard to raise awareness that "there are resources out there" to help children and families.
Over the years, community foundation grants have helped support CHIP’s Parents as Teachers program and funded staff training, office equipment and supplies. One recent grant will help renovate and expand CHIP’s South Norfolk headquarters so it can house other nonprofits that assist families. For Trish, this expansion “could be a real game-changer, helping all of us to share resources, raise our profile in the community and do more of the work we love.”