• Rita Rey

Protecting Farmworker Children from Environmental Contaminants

Updated: Mar 3

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Last week, the Virginia Direct Services (VADS) team, in collaboration with Migrant Clinician’s Network (MCN), completed the second series of training for the Community Health Worker Project.  MCN is a national network of professionals working in primary care and public health settings with migrant farmworkers and their families and other underserved populations.  MCN has received funding from the Aetna Foundation to implement a project called It Takes a Community: Protecting Farmworker Children from Environmental Contaminants.  Keep reading to learn more about this project from my interview with Lynn Bowen, ECMHSP Head Start Administrator for our Virginia Direct Services region.

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How did this partnership with Migrant Clinician’s Network start?

ECMHSP and Migrant Clinician’s Network have previously collaborated on projects pertaining to the health and welfare of our migrant families.  This particular project, the Community Health Worker Project, had its beginning in the spring of 2018.  Amy Lieberman, Director of Environmental and Occupational Health at MCN, reached out to me and we discussed taking part in a two-year project, which involves parents training parents.  As parents become Community Health Workers and return to Florida, they will be able to train other parents along the way and in their home-base towns.  During the first year, a total of 78 parents were able to complete the training.

MCN 2018 TRAINING

Is ECMHSP the only Head Start program that MCN works with to provide this type of training?

Yes, we are currently the only program, which is very exciting because the framework that MCN is providing can also be used across many of our service areas.  The Virginia Direct Services team will be the innovators within ECMHSP with regard to training parents to become Community Health Workers.

What are two ways that parents are taught to prevent exposure to pesticides?

Parents are taught to wash their hands and exposed areas to pesticides thoroughly before picking up their children.  Parents are also taught to wash their work clothes separately from the rest of the family’s clothes, especially the clothing belonging to children and infants.

Could you please tell me a couple ways that chemicals affect children differently?

In addition to children being physically smaller than their parents, children’s brains are experiencing fantastic amounts of growth.  Pound for pound, children are exposed to higher levels of toxins than adults.  Children are also more exposed to pesticides due to their behavior.  They will touch, taste, and smell what their hands touch.  In the case of chemical exposure, this puts them at higher risk of ingesting toxins.  

One of the more effective training methods that parents are taught involves a gallon of water and a smaller bottle of water.  The same amount of food coloring is added to each bottle.  As participants watch, the large bottle of water easily dilutes the food coloring while the smaller bottle struggles, and fails, to dilute the added food coloring.  Parents are taught that the large bottle represents an adult’s body and the smaller bottle represents a child’s body.  The food coloring represents chemicals. Parents who take part in this activity have had “ah-ha” moments.  Previously parents thought that because they were not affected by the chemicals, then their children would also avoid exposure.

How many days does the CHW training last?

The training is a one-day training which requires four hours of participatory training.  Parents receive a certificate, a portfolio, bag, and training materials.  ECMHSP staff assist parents during the parent’s first training session.  This provides them with additional support as they begin the Community Health Worker program.

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