Children in Two ZIP Codes Get Grant; $4.2 Million Will Target Social, Emotional Needs

Article excerpt

ST. LOUIS For decades, an area spanning 4 square miles in north St. Louis has statistically been one of the cruelest for young children.

The children of ZIP codes 63106 and 63107 are nearly twice as likely to be born to teen mothers as the national average, while also having low rates of prenatal care. Crime, poverty, substance abuse and parental incarceration rates are high across the areas 17 neighborhoods.

Consequently, many of the children struggle to keep up in at school, and sometimes go hungry or even homeless.

Today, these St. Louis children will get a boost when local child advocacy leaders announce a $4.2 million federally funded initiative to target the social and emotional needs of children under 8 in these ZIP codes. The area to be served spans roughly from Delmar Boulevard in the south, to Highway 70 on the east and north, with western boundaries at North Grand and Fairground Park.

Sue Stepleton, director of a policy forum at Washington Universitys George Warren Brown School of Social Work, said the grant, awarded in partnership to the state Department of Mental Health and a consortium of child welfare representatives in St. Louis, was concentrated in a small area to have a higher impact.

Its really the state saying, We need a new way to learn from communities whats going on, she said. So here is a significant amount of money directed at a very targeted area at extraordinary risk.

Stepleton, former head of Parents as Teachers International, was a sponsor of the grant application and will head up a child wellness council to oversee the implementation of the program.

The programs goal is two-fold: First, address basic social, cognitive and emotional health needs of an estimated 1,335 young children from the 17 neighborhoods. Thats about half of the children that age living in the area. The funding, distributed over five years, is expected to amount to $2,547 per child.

The money will be used to screen children for health, developmental and behavioral issues. Families will then be offered services and home visits.

Secondly, the neighborhood will act as a sort of laboratory to build a model of emotional care for poor children that can be replicated elsewhere.

The grant, called Project LAUNCH, was awarded by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Last year, Boone County was awarded a similar grant the only other in the state.

Sharon West, director of the of Grace Hill Clinic, says the clinic sees firsthand the dilemma of treating impoverished children from the St. Louis ZIP codes.

She said young children were often given immunizations and treated for asthma and nutritional issues at the agencys Water Tower Health Clinic, situated in the grant coverage area. …