A continued conversation with Jessika Houston, Arc of Whatcom County
At WithinReach, we get to engage with families who are on a wide spectrum of places in their journey with a diagnosis of a special health or developmental need. Sometimes a family is just learning of a diagnosis prenatally, and sometimes they have many years of experience. The Arc of Washington and its nine regional chapters are excellent resources for families who are looking to connect around developmental disabilities, wherever they are on their journey.
We spoke with Jessika Houston, Down syndrome Outreach and Young Adult Self-Advocacy Coordinator at the Arc of Whatcom County to learn more about how she works with individuals and families with developmental disabilities:
“Down syndrome Outreach is a program that exists for individuals with Down syndrome, their family members, friends and caregivers from birth through life. We provide resources, information, advocacy support, and connect families and individuals in our community to support one another on their journey. There are annual support events specific to Down syndrome Outreach (DsO), such as the Buddy Walk in October and the Spring Fling in May.
On World Down syndrome Day (which is March 21), our community helps to bring awareness to their schools and work places about Down syndrome. The goal is to focus on honoring and appreciating our differences, all of them, and therefore encouraging the celebration of our differences and bringing support to all ages. In Whatcom County, there is a vision of change and inclusion for future generations. This has really determined the focus of an aspect of the work I do with DsO, which is to support new families.
When I started at The Arc I heard from our community the need to strengthen the supports for new families with a diagnosis of Down syndrome. There are many misconceptions and stereotypes about people with disabilities, and as Down syndrome is a chromosomal condition, we are able to learn of the diagnosis in the prenatal and postnatal stages.
The opportunity to provide support and resources at the time of diagnosis is one that historically has been missed in the Down syndrome community worldwide. In addition, many families have experienced negative interactions when receiving the diagnosis, with a lack of support and resources.
If families receive the diagnosis and then are told to seek out their own resources, they are vulnerable to inaccurate and prejudicial information. This does not fully engage and support this new family. Despite the challenges, countless families and self-advocates have been propelled from their experiences and helped to create policy which has shifted the dynamic in which families receive support.
In June 2016 in Washington State, the Down syndrome Information Act was passed in legislature. The law came forth because self-advocates spoke out about the impact on their families, and their vision of necessary support to new families.
The 2016 Down syndrome Information Act states: Medical Professionals are to provide materials to families at time of birth or pre-natal stages in delivering a likelihood of a diagnosis. Medical professionals affected by this bill are: midwife, osteopathic physician and surgeon & osteopathic physician’s assistant, physician & physician assistant, nurse, genetic counselor, hospitals, birthing centers & anyone/place in above categories that provide a parent with a prenatal or postnatal diagnosis. The WA State Department of Health has been working in response to this Law, and I have had the chance to connect with them in detail to discuss how we can ensure it is accessible and followed through by medical professionals in Washington State.
This past March, we held a statewide webinar regarding this issue. I am so grateful for the opportunity to be a part of something that we can now utilize as a resource supporting new families across the state. It has been incredible to see different communities and organizations from all over Washington come together to connect about these important issues to empower families and improve systems of care and support.
Before this law was passed, connecting with medical professionals and providing resources to them about this condition, is something I worked to bring to our local community. I have had the chance to present to various meetings with obstetricians, nurses, and midwives, and will continue this work as practitioners become more familiar with this new law. The main message I hope to convey to medical professionals is that the support, resources, and language that is used to give the diagnosis greatly impacts how the family will view their child and how they will utilize the resources available to them.
Through this work I have learned that by opening up our perspectives and working to be a resource, we are able to create systems of support that will sustain through time. They will persevere, find strength and challenges in new and unexpected ways and help transform thinking that includes all abilities and backgrounds.”
You can find more information about this work at the Department of Health here: http://www.doh.wa.gov/YouandYourFamily/InfantsandChildren/HealthandSafety/GeneticServices/DownSyndrome
And read more about the programs at the Arc of Whatcom County here: http://arcwhatcom.org/
Tags: Advocacy care community resources Developmental support diagnosis Disability Down syndrome Down syndrome Information Act states Down syndrome Outreach education programs empower families improve systems intellectual & developmental disabilities Medical Professionals support The Arc Washington state Whatcom County Young Adult
Family and Professional Connections: Promoting Self Advocacy at the Arc of Whatcom County
Through our work with special health and developmental resources, WithinReach has had the great pleasure to partner with agencies such as the Arc of Washington. The Arc is part of a national network dedicated to advocacy, community building, and resource referral for individuals with developmental disabilities and their families. Washington has nine chapters in King, Snohomish, Whatcom, Cowlitz, Grays Harbor, Kitsap/Jefferson, Spokane, Benton/Franklin, and Clark counties.
Part of the advocacy work that the Arc does is to support the perspective and rights of self-advocates, who are individuals with disabilities. To hear more about this important work, we reached out to Jessika Houston, Down syndrome Outreach and Young Adult Self-Advocacy Coordinator at the Arc of Whatcom County. Jessika was gracious to share with us her personal connection to this work, and what it means to her to be in this role:
“My work at The Arc directly relates to my personal life, as I am the sister of a young adult with Down syndrome, Mike. Mike has truly been one of the largest sources of inspiration for me and the path I have taken. I could not be more grateful for him in my life, for all that he has taught me and my family. From him I have learned persistence, patience, compassion, acceptance, resilience, will and grace, and the beauty of living in the moment. When I think of the strengths of living in a neurodiverse family, it comes back to those qualities in him that he has the ability to teach everyone that crosses his path. With him, there have always been moments that we wish we could just capture and visit any time we wanted – the moments that make you love life and trust exactly where you are.
And, in thinking of the challenges – those same qualities can come through, in a different light. The moments when Mike is so frustrated, trying to find the way to articulate what he needs or wants, and seems so tired and overwhelmed with…persisting, having patience…when acceptance of the situation cannot happen and the will takes over…those times are when you wish the moment would just end. There are also challenges that come from those that may not know about Down syndrome and how to engage someone with a disability. Yet, it is the moments of challenge that seem to inspire me the most.
After he was born, I found myself asking questions like: Why are people so afraid of what is different? How can I help? How can I learn about other perspectives? How can I be a resource to my family, my brother, my community?
I first learned of The Arc when I worked as a Living Skills Specialist for a supported living agency in Bellingham. My brother, without knowing it, inspired me to work there so I could learn more about what life as an adult can look like, how to advocate with and for someone, learn about independent living, how to help navigate the supports in someone’s life and discover what resources exist in the community.
In the Young Adult Self Advocates program, we talk about our visions, our goals and aspirations, and acknowledge the challenges and barriers that might exist. Self-Advocates are involved in community awareness projects, as well as focus on their individual skill building. They are also passionate about advocating in legislation for their individual needs, which also reflects needs in our community such as employment, housing, recreation, caregiver wages, among others. They aim to “Be Proud. Be Strong. Be Heard.“
If you are interested in learning more about the Arc of Whatcom County and the Young Adult Self Advocate program, visit http://arcwhatcom.org
Tags: Advocacy community community resources Developmental support Disability Down syndrome education programs Independent living intellectual & developmental disabilities Resources Special Health Care Needs The Arc Whatcom County Young Adult
Measles Outbreak in MN Shows King County is Vulnerable, Too
Guest post by Neil Kaneshiro, MD
Neil has been a pediatrician in Washington State for over two decades, and is currently serving as chair of the Immunization Action Coalition of Washington, which works to improve the health of the community by minimizing the incidence of vaccine preventable diseases through the optimal use of immunizations across the lifespan.
Vaccines have made a huge impact in protecting us from preventable diseases. But in some communities, immunization rates have dropped dramatically, creating the opportunity for diseases to return. A current outbreak in Minnesota shows what could happen in Washington.
Hennepin County in Minnesota is in the midst of a large outbreak of measles which is primarily affecting the Somali community there. There are over 60 cases at this point in time and the count is expected to rise because vaccination rates against measles in that community have plummeted from 92% in 2004 to just 42% in 2014. Measles is highly contagious and vaccination rates need to be well over 90% to prevent the spread of this horrible disease. It appears that the community was misinformed about the risks and benefits of measles vaccine by anti-vaccine celebrity Andrew Wakefield* who visited there on several occasions. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence based medicine showing vaccines are safe and effective, pediatricians and family physicians are confronted every day with parents who question vaccine safety and delay, defer or refuse one or more recommended vaccines.
Vaccine advocates are concerned about families who delay or decline vaccination because of outbreaks like the one currently active in Minnesota. With similar pockets of low immunization rates and regular measles exposures, King County is vulnerable to a similar outbreak. Although measles is much more likely to affect those unimmunized by choice, the vaccine is not 100% effective and measles can occur in a small percentage of people who did the right thing and got their vaccine. Also, there are those who are unimmunized because of medical condition or age since the vaccine is not recommended until 1 year of age.
First and foremost, vaccines protect those who receive them. But receiving vaccines in many cases also helps to protect your family, friends and neighbors from disease as well. Talk to your doctor about keeping up to date in child and adult vaccinations (yes, adults need vaccines too). If everyone eligible for vaccines got immunized, we would be a healthier community.
*For those who don’t know, Andrew Wakefield is the researcher from the United Kingdom who tried to link MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine and autism. But his research has been discredited and his medical license revoked. Extensive research has shown that there is no link between vaccines and autism. Leading autism advocates including Alison Singer, president of the Autism Science Foundation have concluded that vaccines do not cause autism.
When you hear “tax season,” what do you think of? Probably not anything super-positive. But what if “tax season” meant that you would be assisted by a team whose goal was to get you the best refund possible AND to explore ways to improve your quality of life? Sounds pretty good! Luckily for individuals and families in King and Snohomish counties making less than $64,000 a year, that’s exactly what the United Way Free Tax Prep Campaign does.
UWKC has been offering free tax preparation to the community since 2003, and their ultimate goal is to help put some of our hard-earned money back into our savings accounts come springtime. One of the best tools they use–one that was designed specifically to help lift low- and moderate-income houses out of poverty–is the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). This credit primarily benefits individuals and couples within certain income brackets who have qualifying dependents, although others can access it as well. Last year in their 2016 campaign, UWKC filed 21,750 returns, earning their clients about $29.1 million in refunds. Of this, $9.4 million came from the EITC.
As if having someone else doing your taxes for free isn’t enough, UWKC goes a couple steps further. First of all, their service is accessible and low-barrier, which means that those in the most need can get help. UWKC has 27 sites in King County, from Shoreline to Federal Way, out to Bellevue and Renton. These sites have varying hours and days, from early morning to late evenings and even weekends. Many of their tax preparers are bilingual, so language isn’t a roadblock for those seeking help. And for those of us who are somewhat antisocial and were reared by technology (here’s looking at you, 20-somethings), UWKC also offers an online option that will allow you to e-file yourself for free.
So where does WithinReach fit into tax returns? A simple screening questionnaire at intake can quickly determine if families feel like they have enough to eat, if they can pay their utility bills, or if they have healthcare needs. These issues are much more up our alley, and that is where we can address creating healthy futures for our community.
From November through January, our in-person team helped train the tax campaign’s Volunteer Intake & Benefits Specialists, or VIBS. These volunteers greet clients, manage paperwork, make sure everyone has the appropriate materials, and screen clients for possible programs. They then make referrals to our Healthy Connections Online portal in order for our staff to reach out and assist. We trained the VIBS on identifying food, health, and transportation needs, and some of the local public benefits that can help. This way, they can effectively screen clients for eligibility (using a handy-dandy UWKC screening tool) and make referrals to us, coaching their clients through how they will be contacted and what WithinReach can do for them. VIBS can also give clients information on utility assistance, credit pulls, and financial counseling.
Once we receive the referral from the VIBS, it is the job of our Outreach & Enrollment Specialists to reach out to the client within two business days. Once we get in contact with the client, we talk with them to determine what they feel they need and screen them for eligibility for a host of programs. There are a huge number of community resources out there, such as play and learn groups, food banks, and prescription assistance, that people aren’t accessing simply because they don’t know they exist. Our ParentHelp123 website can also be used by clients if they want to explore resources on their own.
To bring assistance even closer to these clients, our team of AmeriCorps Outreach & Enrollment Specialists will be attending four of the busier tax sites once a week through tax season– Lake City Neighborhood Service Center, Rainier Community Center, Burien Goodwill, and the Central Library. Instead of sending in a referral, our team can actually help clients on the spot.
The Tax Campaign aims to put money back into the pockets of low-income households across King county. This money can pay medical bills, help with groceries, keep the lights turned on, or be tucked away for later. This partnership between WithinReach and the UWKC tax sites aids with our own personal mission of making healthy futures attainable for families across Washington, by connecting them to the resources they need to be healthy and safe.
A “Day On” With the University District Food Bank
No one on the team—including myself—had conducted a food drive before, and we had no idea what to expect. I personally anticipated that folks would not be very interested in speaking to us or taking a list of suggested items to donate, but to our surprise we had a lot of interest! Folks were eager to take a flyer and we had many customers come out after their shopping trips with one to two full bags of items. We also noticed many parents with younger children participating in the donation and many of them donated large boxes of baby diapers. We even had a couple of folks mention to us that they were familiar with the University District Food Bank, and we had one gentleman comment that he felt very comfortable accessing the food bank as it was set up similarly to a grocery store. After we completed collecting donations, our team met back at the food bank to sort through the donations together. Our AmeriCorps team is typically at the food bank once a week educating clients on the SNAP (food stamps) program, so it was great for us to help with and experience the operational side of the food bank.
For only four hours of work, our team was able to collect around 450 lbs. of food! It was incredibly uplifting to spend half of the day with the AmeriCorps team and to experience conducting a food drive for the first time together. I am grateful to have a team who is passionate about serving the community, even on a day off!
How to choose a health insurance plan
Do you have a specific doctor’s office or clinic in mind?
What plans are currently accepted by that doctor or clinic?
While picking an insurance plan, one of the most important factors is being able to use that insurance for services at a clinic or doctor’s office with which you would like to work. If you have a specific health clinic or provider in mind, you’ll want to make sure they accept the insurance you choose. While shopping on Washington Healthplanfinder, the health insurance marketplace for Washington state, you can check which insurance plans are accepted by clicking “Add”, listed under “Health Care Provider” in the “My Search” box, located on the upper left-hand side of the QHP selection screen. You will be able to search by your provider’s name, hospital, or zip code. Be sure to call the office to confirm if the plan is accepted and get the most updated information!
Do you have any chronic health conditions or specialty care needs?
Are any of your typical medical needs listed under the excluded services?
Although all health insurance plans listed on the exchange are required to cover the Ten Essential Benefits, you’ll want to spend some time looking into the details of the plans you are considering to see what other services may or may not be covered. This is especially important if you have any specific medical needs or services you know you will be seeking. You’ll want to make sure the plan you pick is going to work the best for you and your health.
To see more details about the plan, click the link that says “More information on this plan,” located under the name of each plan option on the shopping page of Washington Healthplanfinder.
What is your monthly budget for health insurance?
Are there any tax credits and/or cost-sharing available to you?
There are many factors to consider when deciding which health insurance plan might be most affordable for you or your family. Every plan has a different amount for what you must pay from your own pocket before the insurance company will help you pay for your healthcare. There are five insurance payment terms to keep in mind:
- Premium—the monthly payment you make to ensure you have coverage.
- Deductible—the amount you will need to pay yourself for healthcare services before the insurance company starts to pay for healthcare costs.
- Copayment—An amount you pay for a covered healthcare service after the deductible has been met. This may vary depending on the service.
- Co-Insurance—the percentage of the bill you are responsible for before the deductible is reached. For example, a 20% co-insurance means that you pay 20% of the bill and the insurance company pays 80%.
- Out-of-Pocket Max—the maximum amount you can pay in a year. After this is reached, all covered services will be paid for by the insurance company
At first glance, a low monthly premium might seem like the most affordable option, but these plans tend to come with a higher deductible. That means that if you have an unplanned medical need or accident, you may end up paying more out of your own pocket since the deductible needs to be met before the insurance company will help you pay.
You might also qualify for help paying for your insurance through government subsidies. If your income is under 400% of the federal poverty level (or $8,100/month for a family of four), you may qualify for tax credits that help pay for the monthly premium, or cost-sharing reduction to help reduce your out of pocket expenses!
On Washington Healthplanfinder, you are able to customize your search using the categories on the left-hand side and narrow your selections to plans within the range of what you may be comfortable paying. You can also see more detailed information about the cost
What is the size of the network for this plan?
Do I have to stay “in-network?
Will I need a referral to see a specialist?
Another aspect to keep in mind while picking a health insurance plan is the type of network available to you. The plan network includes physicians, hospitals, and other healthcare providers that have agreed to provide medical services at pre-negotiated prices and rates. There are three different categories:
- Health Maintenance Organization (HMO)—This type of plan limits coverage to care from doctors who work for the insurance organization. Services by providers outside of the network will most likely not be covered. Your doctor, or primary care physician as they are usually called, will help to coordinate your care and provide referrals to see specialists.
- Preferred Provider Organization (PPO)—In this type of plan, you will save more money seeking services from providers who are part of the plan’s network. You can see doctors, hospitals, and/or specialist outside of the network without a referral, but they may end up costing you more.
- Exclusive Provider Organization (EPO)—This plan will require you to see providers within the network to have your services covered. Any services by out-of-network providers will not be covered.
Each of these types of plans have their pros and cons, so to help you make a decision, you’ll want to ask yourself how flexible you would like your health insurance plan to be.
Even with a list of questions to help you find the best plan, we here at WithinReach realize that it can still be overwhelming to sift through all the information. That is why we are here to help! By calling our Family Health Hotline at (800) 322-2588, we can walk you through the whole application process and help you narrow down your plan options.
Podcast: Child Development Screening Part Two
Part two of our child development series is here! Emma and Stephanie talk about social and emotional development and why it’s important to pay attention to this area early in your child’s life.
Listen to part one for background before this episode!
Fighting Holiday Hunger
Written by Signe Burchim, WithinReach AmeriCorps Outreach & Enrollment Specialist
‘Tis the season where everything seems to revolve around food. If you feel like you don’t have enough food this season, WithinReach is here to help! Over the phone on our Family Health Hotline, we can help connect you to plenty of different food resources to put food on the table this holiday season. We do screening for basic food eligibility, basic food application assistance, as well help locate food banks and farmer’s markets in your area.
Our AmeriCorps in-person outreach team recently started going to the state of the art, newly located University District food bank. While we are still in the process of building trust and relationships with the patrons of the food bank, it has been really rewarding to get to know the people there and understand the specific needs of the diverse University District community. I recently met a client there that was going to a food bank for the very first time, and didn’t know anything about the process. The front desk staff at the food bank sent them back to me for information about enrolling in the basic food program. The client was certain that they would be over-income, but after a quick screening I determined they were likely eligible and assisted them as they filled out an application in about ten minutes. The client left the food bank with shopping bags full of groceries, and a bulk of new information on food resources to keep their family happy, and healthy. Many people are worried that signing up for Basic Food may take too long, or that it isn’t worth the hassle. The truth is the benefits far outweigh the ten minutes it takes to complete an application, and opens the door to access a number of food assistance options.
Let’s review some of the food options we have in Washington State!
Basic Food: The basic food program, which you may also know as SNAP, food stamps, or EBT, is a great resource for people looking to supplement their food supply. The basic food program can be used to purchase food items, and is widely accepted by many different grocery stores like Safeway, QFC, Trader Joe’s, and Target, as well as many small drug stores and local grocers with culturally competent food items. Most places that accept EBT benefits will have a sign outside!
Already on Basic Food and have a low benefit amount?: The good news is that your benefits roll over from month to month, and the holidays are a great time to save up some of your food benefits to use them for special occasions, like a big holiday dinner for you and your family/friends. A low benefit amount of $16 might seem like it doesn’t help much on a month to month basis, but when you’re planning ahead and saving your benefits, that $16 can easily multiply and make all the difference.
Fresh bucks: Another benefit of the basic food program is Fresh Bucks! Fresh Bucks is a program through the King County farmer’s markets that will match your basic food dollars (for every $2 you are willing to spend they will match it up to $10). This is a great way to get fresh, in-season vegetables this holiday season. Fun fact: broccoli, brussels sprouts, potatoes, squash, and cauliflower are all in currently in season and are a great addition to any holiday meal.
Food banks: Forget what you know about food banks: they have so much more than just canned green beans and spaghetti noodles. Food banks have a lot of the winter delicacies you’re looking for this holiday season. For example, the University District food bank has fresh flowers, greeting cards, egg-nog, and a wide selection of breads, meats, and vegetables. Most food banks will just require that you bring your photo ID along with proof of address from the last 30 days (this can be waived if you are homeless), so they can make sure you’re using the food bank meant for your neighborhood.
Why apply now?: Utilizing these programs that are available to you are a great way to save some extra money during the winter months. As the temperature goes down, heating bills and other expenses are on the rise. The more food you get on the table the more money you are able to save for a rainy day!
If you are interested in learning more about food resources and programs, or feel you are ready to complete an application – give us a call today on our Family Health Hotline at 1 (800) 322-2588. Our friendly staff is available from 8:00am-5:00pm Monday – Thursday, and Fridays from 8:00am-5:00pm. If you need help locating a food bank or farmers market near you, go to ParentHelp123.org
Podcast: Child Development Screening Part One
What, exactly, is child development screening (other than a free service that we offer to Washington families)? Stephanie is here to teach us all about it! This is part one, so stay tuned for the next episode when Stephanie and Emma dive into social and emotional development.
Podcast: Open Enrollment is here!
We’re talking about Open Enrollment for health insurance on this episode of the WithinReach Podcast. There’s a lot of information packed into this episode; here are some of the sites we referenced so you can learn more:
And as always, you can call our Family Health Hotline at 1(800) 322-2588 for assistance.
Teen parents connect in GRADS
The ASQ is one of many tools that the GRADS program uses to build confidence in teen parents; it works to empower them and make them the experts on their babies’ development. From a homeschooled teen in a small town to a confident Vancouver mother, Celeste tapped into GRADS and NFP to build her skill set and support network and to offer her son a healthy start. These students are a testament to the value of stable, positive investment in young parents.
We asked parents for feedback about Summer Meals–here’s what they had to say
Written by Annya Pintak, Community Partnership Associate, and Vinnie Tran, AmeriCorps VISTA/Summer Meals Promotions Specialist
Even though winter is almost upon us, WithinReach is already starting to plan for next year’s Summer Meals Program, a free meal program for kids and teens during the summer months. WithinReach serves as a point of contact for Washington families looking for local Summer Meals sites, and this past summer our Summer Meals VISTA and Community Partnership team partnered with the United Way of King County to further promote the Summer Meals Program.
In addition to promoting the program, our team took the opportunity to receive community feedback. We surveyed over 50 participants in Auburn, Tukwila and SeaTac sites, and conducted a focus group to further investigate on how to improve the Summer Meals and Basic Food (food stamp) program. In late August, WithinReach held its first focus group with a cohort of Auburn parents who we met at a Summer Meals site.
In the one-hour session that took place at the Auburn Library, the participants reviewed and provided feedback on current Summer Meals materials. Participants suggested concrete ways to improve the design and messaging of three Summer Meals flyers to better appeal to parents, especially Spanish-speaking individuals. They additionally stressed the importance of paper flyers and reaffirmed that schools were the best avenue to promote Summer Meals. A major concern parents indicated was the lack in consistent messaging and branding from different sponsors. Many of the parents indicated that this contributed to a common confusion among participants when visiting different Summer Meal sites in King County.
Participants of the focus group discussion were also asked to review various Basic Food (food stamps) materials. While we had a major focus on the Summer Meals program, we wanted to take the opportunity to gather community feedback on other food assistance programs as well. Many of the participants indicated materials that included visuals of cooked meals instead of plain vegetables were more appealing. Similar to the feedback on the Summer Meals materials, participants mentioned a concern with the inconsistent terms that various materials used to describe the Basic Food program; many materials use “Basic Food,” “food stamps,” and “EBT” interchangeably without clarifying that these terms all mean the same thing.
This focus group provided us with the opportunity to hear feedback from the community and to understand how we can better improve the promotion of the Summer Meals and Basic Food program. Hearing directly from the community is crucial to our work and we are looking forward to integrating their feedback into our future work and materials.