Irina Yakubenko

Moms First Program, Cleveland Department of Health, Cleveland, Ohio

This past summer I interned at the Moms First office at the Cleveland Department of Health. Originally known as healthy family/healthy start, it was first funded in 1991. The main goal of the office is to reduce disparities in infant mortality and poor birth outcomes experienced by African Americans in the City of Cleveland. Moms First not only serves pregnant women and teens in the city of Cleveland, but also women and teens who have experienced a pregnancy loss and women who are incarcerated, residing in shelters, or enrolled in an inpatient chemical dependency treatment program. The project funds 37 community health workers and nine case managers who are trained to provide the project’s core services: outreach, case management, health education, interconceptional care services, and perinatal depression screening. The staff is based out of seven neighborhood settlement houses, a community-based social service agency, and Northeast Ohio Neighborhood Health Services, NEON. Each participant receives at least two face-to-face contacts and one phone call per month. In any given year about 2,500 families receive Moms First services. The main goal is to ensure that moms and moms-to-be are healthy before, during, and after their pregnancy.

My first project at the office was to research and put together material for resiliency training. The training was for the moms in the program who needed help adapting to adversity. I organized the training and made 2 power point presentations and a survey. A few days after, the project director and I met with two of the case managers to talk about some of the problems the community health workers were having. Since the community health workers are the direct contact to the moms in the program, they participate in constant trainings and meetings to make sure the moms are getting the right help. The case managers expressed some problems that the workers were having including boundaries between them and the moms and text message and body language barriers. After that meeting, I was put in charge to develop training materials for the workers for their next meeting. I made power point presentations about each topic and printed flashcards about “text- talk.” I was able to lead the training with the caseworkers and try to help them with some of the problems they were having with the moms.

The next project I had was to find potential partners for a social clinical service committee. Moms First was trying to reach out to as many contacts in Cleveland as possible to increase resources for the moms. Their main goal was to put together a committee that would meet once every two months and bring their resources together to help the moms in the program with anything they need. I called potential partners in Cleveland and invited them to come to the first meeting to see if we could use their resources. The first meeting was very successful with 20 different people from the City of Cleveland showing up. Participants shared what they had to offer and how they could make the Moms First program stronger. I also got to attend some of the consortiums held for the moms. Important topics were discussed such as SIDS, depression, and job searching.

Another project that I had was to call current moms enrolled in the program and ask them about their experience and what they needed help with. A lot of the participants won’t reach out for help unless asked, so I collected a good deal of valuable information. Some caseworkers never showed up for their appointments or promised information but did not deliver. Some of the moms were unaware of programs that were offered to them for free. I would then report my findings to the director of the program and she would make sure that the problems were taken care of.

Lastly, at the end of my internship the program was holding a big seminar with all of the caseworkers and some of the moms to see how the program could be improved. I gave a presentation in front of this group and led icebreakers to get them ready to participate. I was then in charge of speaking with the moms to find out how they imagined their future and what kind of help they needed now to achieve the future they foresaw. After the seminar I wrote up a report with what the moms thought needed improvement.

Overall, I learned a lot about how a city participates in the public health of its residents. I was lucky enough not only to learn about the county and department of public health but also to give back to the community and help Cleveland residents. It was definitely an eye-opening experience to talk with the moms and listen to their experiences. Thanks to the Wellman Hill Grant, the internship gave me insight and experience on what path I want to take in the future. I am extremely grateful to Ms. Hill and the committee for making this possible.