In high school, Shaniqua Ballard tried to avoid peer pressure and pitfalls. However when she became pregnant, she briefly moved into a shelter for pregnant women where a friend told her about the District of Columbia Developing Families Center. “I had been going to a clinic where they just gave you a prescription for vitamins and listened to the baby’s heartbeat — that’s it,” Ballard explains. “At the Center, they actually showed me how my baby was looking and explained what was happening with my body. They just made it so comfortable.” Ballard also accessed other supports at the Center, where her daughter Mya was born. Today, Mya receives pediatric care and early childhood education at the Center.
Giving women like Ballard the care and knowledge they need to raise healthy families is exactly what the D.C. Developing Families Center is all about. A collaboration of three service providers — the D.C. Birth Center, the Healthy Babies Project and the Nation’s Capital Child and Family Development — the DCDFC reaches out to low-income communities of Carver Terrace and Trinidad/Ivy City in Northeast Washington, D.C. At the DCDFC, young mothers and their babies can access all their health care in one place in their neighborhood. Additional services, ranging from GED preparation to food and parenting classes, help families stay strong.
Ruth Watson Lubic, a nurse midwife who received a 1994 MacArthur Fellowship after developing a successful birth center in the South Bronx, brought the Center’s partners together under one umbrella to create the DCDFC. For Lubic and Co-CEO Linda Randolph, a public health pediatrician, providing health care that works for the families they serve means treating medical issues in the context of a person’s life. Even among birth centers, the scope of DCDFC’s care for women and their families is unique. Because the Center added a pediatric component, nurse practitioners see children from infancy to age 21. Center nurse-midwives also do well-woman care and were the first to have privileges at back-up hospitals so they could attend births for mothers whose medical risks made them ineligible for the birth center.
This spring, the District of Columbia’s infant mortality rate fell by an unprecedented 20.7 percent, credited in part to the Center and its peers. Representatives from twelve U.S. cities have toured the Center with hopes of emulating both the spirit and the specifics of what they see. The Center itself plans to expand its support for area families, including males, by establishing the Capitol View Health Center for general medical services, dental care and mental health services in an environmentally conscious building. For Lubic, Randolph and their partners, however, the greatest satisfaction lies in seeing women make educated choices about their health care, watching their families grow stronger and giving the neighborhood a focus for pride.
The District of Columbia Developing Families Center is a 2003 Honoree of Families Count, the national honors program that recognizes organizations that are making a difference in the lives of families struggling to survive in tough neighborhoods.