When children enter the pre-school program at Cuidando Los Niños, an Albuquerque nonprofit serving families experiencing homelessness, they often arrive with unique health needs. A lack of safe, stable housing can lead to problems accessing health care, nutritious food, child care and other important resources. Children experiencing homelessness may also suffer from developmental delays and socioemotional challenges.
“When you fall into homelessness, you don’t have a doctor,” said Jeffrey Hoehn, executive director at Cuidando Los Niños. “You don’t have a dentist. You don’t have a school nurse to see. You need a program like Cuidando to bring you back to health.”
Funding from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico’s (BCBSNM) Healthy Kids, Healthy Families® initiative and an additional BCBSNM grant are helping Cuidando Los Niños do just that. The organization is using the nearly $15,000 in funding to address the physical health and nutritional needs of children enrolled in its early childhood education program and to provide parent education related to whole-family health and wellness.
“It’s with the support of this grant through Blue Cross and Blue Shield that we work with our family case manager and a team of teachers here at Cuidando to make sure our families are eating healthy foods, exercising, and getting the right care,” Hoehn said.
Cuidando Los Niños takes a holistic approach to help families emerge from homelessness and lead healthy lives. Children aged 6 weeks to 5 years old enroll in the early pre-school program, and their parents receive education and case management. Each family creates an individualized family success plan with the help of Cuidando family support specialists, who also work closely with the children’s teachers. Depending on the needs of the family, their plans can involve behavioral and physical health care referrals as well as personalized health and wellness goals.
Classes for parents include education on nutrition, exercise, cooking and budgeting for meals. In pre-school, children receive nutritious meals and snacks, participate in age-appropriate physical activities and learn about healthy eating and exercise.
Kaia, a 5-year-old student, said he likes going into the tree house, playing with blocks, running around with his friends and exercising at school. Iridiam, another 5-year-old student, said her favorite things at school include playing with her friends and going outside.
“It’s amazing to see the kiddos come into the school,” said Hoehn. “With the love of our teachers and support of our staff, they start to blossom. We see them reach their educational milestones. We see them start to socialize. And we see them get ready to go on to the next chapter of their education.”
At the same time, parents receive support with job training, finding employment and housing, and developing other life skills.
“By twining those two vines — the kids and the parents — that’s how the program works,” Hoehn said. “It’s a unique program here in Albuquerque. It’s a unique program here in New Mexico, and I think we need more of it.”
To learn more about Cuidando Los Niños, visit clnabq.org.