What follows is an opinion piece written for the Cincinnati Enquirer published Dec. 21 by Judith Van Ginkel, professor of pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and president of Every Child Succeeds, an $8M home visitation program she spearheaded with three founding partners: Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, United Way of Greater Cincinnati, and the Hamilton County Community Action Agency/Head Start.
I recently went to see the Lee Daniels movie, “Precious.” It’s based on the novel “Push” by Sapphire. I knew the plot and had read the reviews before I went, but nothing prepared me for this story. Unfortunately, what didn’t surprise me was the situation of the lead character, 16-year-old Clareece Jones, a teenaged mother who was impregnated (twice) by her father and physically and verbally abused by her mother.
Since its inception in 1999, I have been president of Every Child Succeeds, a Cincinnati based prevention/early intervention program for children from birth to three years of age.
With new understanding about early brain development and a focus on giving all children the best possible start, we often work with first-time mothers who are young, poor, single and lacking prenatal care. We soon realized that for children to thrive, their mothers need healthy pregnancies and healthy environments where they and their young children can be safe.
What we didn’t fully appreciate in our organization’s early years – as “Precious” correctly depicts – was how high the barriers are for these young mothers.
Not only do they face the stresses that all parents encounter, but also more than two-thirds have either been the victims of violence or witnessed violence. And a new study by the Centers for Disease Control last fall reports that survivors of six or more incidents of significant childhood trauma such as physical, emotional or sexual abuse or household dysfunction may expect their lives to be up to 20 years shorter.
And yet, hope shines through. As the movie points out powerfully, having one person who believes in you, one person who lends a hand, one organization that helps you find a path and gives you confidence to succeed can – and does – make all the difference.
Thanks to thousands of people in and around Cincinnati, during the past 10 years, resources have been provided for ECS to make more than 300,000 home visits, serve more than 16,000 at-risk mothers, 16,000 infants and many fathers. Many mothers who, like Precious, were previously on the road to failing themselves and their children, now have the opportunity to experience real success.
“Precious” is certainly a moving example of how art imitates life and also a great reminder that while our circumstances affect us, they do not need to define us. With support and care, children thrive. And even though the movie concentrates on the life of Precious herself, it also reminds us that the more who are willing to help, the more children succeed.
Judith Van Ginkel, PhD, is a Professor of Pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s and President of Every Child Succeeds. Dr. Van Ginkel is a strategist and leader in the health community and has significantly helped establish public policy on social service and health care.