Alta Bates outreach coordinator Yvette Escobar meets with a new mom.

We had a debate in the office a few months ago about the term “hard-to-reach” when talking about families who could benefit from services but don’t receive them. The outcome of the discussion rested on this: Why place the onus on the family for being “hard-to-reach” when in fact, it’s the services that have become hard-to-reach for far too many families?

I agree! The system of family services has always been difficult to navigate. Ongoing budget cuts and reduced funding for nonprofits have only exacerbated this situation. But there is some good news.

Four years ago, First 5 Contra Costa, in partnership with Every Child Counts – First 5 Alameda County, launched a hospital outreach program at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley where many parents from Richmond and San Pablo give birth. This outreach strategy was designed to enroll more West County families in Contra Costa home visiting programs since so many were not being served. What better way to reach families than at their bedside, right after the birth of their baby?

That’s exactly what the hospital outreach coordinator Yvette Escobar does. She meets with every Contra Costa mom on Medi-Cal who delivers at Alta Bates, providing information and referrals about local home visiting programs or other needed resources. This outreach strategy has proven to be highly effective. Besides the fact that the moms are, let’s face it, somewhat of a captive audience, right after birth is also a time when many new mothers are more open to receiving services.

In the last three months alone, Yvette has referred 141 families to services; half were first-time mothers and 31 had babies in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit). She helped enroll 82 of the parents in the Text4Baby program, a service that provides free text messages regarding health, child development, nutrition, and community resources for expectant and new parents. In addition she’s provided information about the Kit for New Parents, the First 5 Centers, and Medi-Cal enrollment for babies. Last year she referred over 600 moms.

Yvette has also become a trusted resource in the community for other programs trying to enroll underserved families in their programs. For example, when I discovered that Brighter Beginnings received a federal Early Head Start grant, I connected Yvette with their staff to assist with recruitment. Of the 24 families enrolled in this new West County program, Yvette recruited 16. It is unlikely that the families would have ever learned of this service – or benefited from the home visits and social support the program will provide – had it not been for Yvette.

Filling those Early Head Start slots just took a little collaboration, a willingness to share resources, and a knowledgeable and friendly outreach worker who was in the right place at the right time. When we work together and make it as easy as possible for families, nothing seems out of reach.

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