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New Program at Rutgetrs to Help Immigrant Families

 CAMDEN -  Imagine being the parent of a sick child, and being unable to understand what medicine your child needs.  Or imagine taking your child to an emergency room and not being able to communicate the critical symptoms to the doctors.


In the City of Camden alone, hundreds of immigrant families confront “health illiteracy” on a daily basis.  A new project at Rutgers–Camden seeks to educate immigrant families and health-care providers alike to help children get the best medical care possible.


The Rutgers–Camden Center for Strategic Urban Community Leadership has received a $250,000 New Jersey Health Initiative Grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to advance awareness of early childhood health among immigrant families in the City of Camden.


The Health Education Literacy Project (HELP), part of the Rutgers Early Learning Research  Academy, will work with immigrant families to help parents better understand the nutritional, dental, immunization, and other medical issues related to young children.  Throughout the three-year program, the Rutgers–Camden project will seek to increase immunization rates for children of immigrants; decrease emergency room usage for routine health issues; offer parental guidance and training; and provide health care personnel with a better understanding of how to best work with immigrant families.  


Education is vital for childhood health, says Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, a Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor of Public Administration at Rutgers–Camden.


“Immigrants comprise more than one-tenth of Camden’s overall population,” explains Bonilla-Santiago, the director of the Rutgers–Camden Center for Strategic Urban Community Leadership.  “Low levels of educational attainment, poverty, limited English proficiency, lack of adequate health insurance, and low awareness of health resources in their community make the children of immigrants among the most vulnerable.  When immigrant children who have been raised in impoverished conditions enter school (or preschool), they may be poorly nourished, have unattended dental problems, may not be fully immunized against childhood diseases, and may suffer from other preventable or treatable health conditions.   


“Working with Cooper Health and all of our partners, our goal is to improve health literacy which, in turn, results in increased immunization rates for children of immigrants; decreased emergency room usage for routine health issues; better parenting skills; and health-care personnel that have a better understanding of how to help immigrant families.”  


The new Rutgers–Camden initiative will develop tailored curricula for educators and health-care providers (including medical students).  HELP partners will include Cooper Family Medicine, the Camden Coalition of Health Care Providers, and such early childhood care agencies as Respond, Mi Casita, Broadway Family, El Centro, and the LEAP Academy University Charter Schools.


At the conclusion of the project, immigrant families will have improved functional English language skills for navigating the health system; an increased understanding of how to read a prescription, where to go to fill the prescription, how to administer the medicine, and how to use over-the-counter medications; and a deeper understanding of critical health topics for infants and young children, and how to best describe symptoms to a doctor or nurse.

“All parents want children to grow and thrive, but learning to negotiate the American healthcare system can be daunting to new immigrants,” adds Christine Brenner, an associate professor in the Department of Public Policy and  Administration at Rutgers–Camden, and co-principal on the grant.


“We are excited about the future impact of the Health Education Literacy Project in assisting the growing number of Mexican, Dominican, and other Camden immigrant families in raising healthy children. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s generous grant presents an important opportunity to build on the strong community relationships developed through the work of Governor Corzine’s Blue Ribbon Advisory Panel on Immigrant Integration, the established linkage between LEAP University Charter School and Cooper Hospital, and our on-going working collaboration with the Consul of Mexico in Philadelphia.”


For more information, contact the Rutgers–Camden Center for Strategic Urban Community Leadership at (856) 225-6348.


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