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Rounding Up Remedies

Allied Health alliance benefits Texas children

May 2006

by Tina Luther

A crisis looms in Texas. For many residents, it has become both a sad and stark reality.

In Del Rio, the U.S. Census Bureau cites that 27 percent of the population lives in poverty, and 28.7 percent of the population over age 25 have less than a ninth-grade education. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, more than 196,000 children in Bexar county are covered by the Texas Health Steps (THSteps) Program (Medicaidís comprehensive and preventive child health service for individuals in Texas younger than 21 years old). But less than half received dental services in 2005. Two departments from the School of Allied Health Sciences are providing creative solutions to aid young children in San Antonio and along the South Texas border region.

Since 1999, the department of occupational therapy (OT) has taken a service-learning approach with the Head Start program to enhance its curriculum. Head Start is a federally funded child development program that serves children from birth until age 5 and expectant mothers and their families. The goal of Head Start is to increase the school readiness of children in low-income families. Of the 540 children enrolled in the San Felipe Del Rio Consolidated Independent School Districtís Head Start program in the 2004-2005 school year, 104 students were from migrant families, 76 had special needs and 111 were homeless.

This past year, the department of occupational therapy received an Innovative Teaching Grant to fund biannual developmental screenings for more than 30 Head Start children between the ages of 3 and 5 in Del Rio. Recommendations are made to parents and teachers for referrals to physicians or therapists for children who either are at risk for or who have developmental disabilities.

But the work doesnít stop there. The Head Start staff provides hands-on classroom experiences for OT students, giving them a glimpse into the lives of these socioeconomically disadvantaged children.

"This experience is a real eye opener for OT students," said Karin Barnes, Ph.D., associate professor of occupational therapy. "The reciprocal nature of this program is the real reward." Alison Beck, Ph.D., associate professor of occupational therapy, agrees. "I donít think there is any substitution for taking students into the community," she said. "They are providing a real service to society. When they see that, it really reinforces their confidence in being able to become an OT."

  Kathy Geurink teaches 5-year-old Elizabeth the proper techniques of healthy brushing.
Kathy Geurink teaches 5-year-old Elizabeth the proper techniques of healthy brushing.
At the close of their last pediatric course, the OT students return to Del Rio to give presentations about classroom strategies to 100 Head Start teachers. Topics range from behavioral problems, handwriting and daily living skills. The presentations, which have been well received by Head Start teachers, give the OT students an opportunity to develop their consulting skills.

"Weíre here to educate adult students," Dr. Beck said. "Head Start educates children. Through this program, everybody wins."

But OT is not the only department that is working with Head Start. For the past 20 years, the department of dental hygiene has hosted lectures and projects regarding Head Start with the City of San Antonio Parent and Child Inc. (PCI).

After learning about a new national oral health initiative, Kathy Geurink, M.A., associate professor of dental hygiene and Head Start Region VI oral health consultant; Beatriz Hicks, M.A., clinical associate professor of dental hygiene, and Joe Segura, adjunct services director of Head Start PCI, raised the bar for the dental hygiene program by crafting an innovative solution to the cityís child dental care problem. Together, they partnered with the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District (SAMHD) to garner funding for a federal Head Start Oral Health Initiative ó a four-year $300,000 grant that will provide services to the San Antonio metropolitan area beginning this fall. This collaboration is one of only three in Texas and one of 50 in the nation to receive federal grant funding for an oral health project.

Approximately 37 undergraduate and graduate dental hygiene students will work with volunteer dental hygienists from the community at SAMHD clinics to take histories, implement programs and provide fluoride varnish applications to more than 6,700 children (nearly one-tenth of the programís enrollment in the state) in 85 Head Start centers. In addition, students will educate parents, teachers and children about oral health prevention. Hicks was selected to serve as the project coordinator.

"The overall goal of the OT and dental hygiene components is to look at the child as a whole and to have a vision for a healthy and productive life," Geurink said.

For more information about the Head Start oral health program, visit the National Maternal and Child Oral Health Resource Center Web site at www.mchoralhealth.org. For more information about the Health Science Centerís department of occupational therapy, visit www.uthscsa.edu/ot2. To volunteer for the Head Start Oral Health Initiative project, contact Beatriz Hicks, dental hygiene project coordinator, at (210) 567-8835 or send an e-mail to hicksb@uthscsa.edu.


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