CHEVERLY – A new collaborative county initiative aims to promote a “smart start” for young children by providing new families at the University of Maryland Capital Regional Health and Medstar Southern Maryland Hospitals with a “baby bundle” with items to encourage early childhood education and safety. Local health, education and government leaders gathered at the Prince George’s County Health Department on May 3 to launch the “Smart Start for Babies” program.
The bundles include a portable crib and a package of cloth and board books. Enrolled children will receive a free book in the mail every month until they turn five years old. The parents will also receive cards with information about how to recognize the signs of abuse and neglect and how to report any instances to social services.
“We’re giving these little ones a smart start that will really last a lifetime,” said Betty Hager Francis, the deputy chief administrative officer for Health, Human Services and Education.
The county Health Department, Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS), the county’s Memorial Library System and the county Department of Social Services are partnering to commence the program.
Reading aloud to young children can have many benefits, such as strengthening the bond between the child and parent and giving the child practice in listening, vocabulary, memory and reading comprehension skills.
If children are registered at birth, they can receive up to 60 books by the time they turn five years old.
“They can start their own library,” said Sam Epps, IV, the president of Prince George’s County Memorial Library System Board of Library Trustees.
Monica Goldson, deputy superintendent of the Division of Teaching and Learning for PGCPS, said the program may help the children excel once they enter the school system.
And, once registered children turn five and enter the school system, they receive their own library card.
“What we are doing today is elevating the level of warning and awareness of what we need to do for the next generation,” said Nahid Mazarei, the chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Medstar Southern Maryland Hospital. “For too long, we have counted on individual heroism – teachers, nurses, doctors and individuals – to help the most vulnerable in our community. Today, we are expanding that individual commitment to the community and raising the awareness.”
The portable cribs have the potential to save many young lives. One of the leading causes of infant mortality in Prince George’s County is sleep-related deaths, including accidental suffocation due to parents co-sleeping with the child. The portable crib enables the parents to keep their young one near them while providing the necessary safety conditions needed for a healthy child.
“When we talk about how are we going to improve the number for our kids graduating and not dropping out of school, it starts here,” County Executive Rushern Baker, III, said. “When we talk about how are we going to improve the number so that our children, our young people come out ready for a job, it starts here. When we talk about whole families, it starts here with our young and our families. This is really what it’s about.”