Far too many of Fort Wayne's children are living in poverty, going without proper food, or in need of treatment for mental or physical problems. Far too often, those needs aren't recognized or addressed. But that's not primarily because of a lack of people who care.
As the newly hired program director for the Allen County Community Health Improvement Plan for Children, Dr. Sarah GiaQuinta is looking for ways to see that the people who can offer assistance are connected with the children and families who need that help.
A pediatrician who grew up in Decatur, GiaQuinta was until recently a quality improvement coordinator for Eskenazi Health in Indianapolis. A month ago, she took over the job of leading the newly formed CHIP for Children.
The CHIP effort is a Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne initiative that grew from a year-long study organized by the Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health. Groups looked at such aspects of children's well-being as physical and spiritual health, safety and issues in the judicial system. Across the spectrum of challenges, some common themes emerged.
Perhaps the most important was the need for ways to enable physicians, caregivers, teachers and others to identify children's needs and find the right kind of assistance for them.
That squares with GiaQuinta's experience as a doctor and as a researcher.
Whether the needs to be met involve education, medical or mental treatment or help with nutrition and housing, “I think what we're seeing is that Allen County has the resources, but we are not using them,” GiaQuinta said. “We're not working together.”
Because they are in a unique position to recognize and assess the problems of young children, CHIP plans to focus first on helping doctors and other medical professionals make those connections.
“We need to help our physicians,” GiaQuinta said. “When someone comes in, how do we help them ask the right questions and, on the back end, how do we get these kids hooked up with these resources?
“What I've heard in every medical facility I've ever worked in,” GiaQuinta said, “is 'We don't know what to do if we get a request.' What if we ask them about mental health? Where do we send them? We don't have resources.
“We have these wonderful resources in the community,” GiaQuinta said, “but physicians aren't calling them because that system is not set up. I am envisioning this world where a child will go in and see their pediatrician, we will ask them the right questions and start the process of not just treating that child, but how do we heal that family? That's going to mean taking care of the parents and supporting them and taking the burdens off. Food ... how do we get them to school? How do we get them day care? There are people who can help them.”
CHIP plans to work closely with Great Kids Make Great Communities, the organization founded by Superior Court Judge Charles Pratt to help train workers in social services, juvenile justice, education and law enforcement. Earlier this month, the Foellinger Foundation announced a $500,000 grant to help Great Kids set up a Youth and Family Development Academy and a lecture series.
The 33-year-old GiaQuinta, whose father-in-law is former Fort Wayne Community Schools Board President Mark GiaQuinta, is working to break the broad recommendations of the study into actions, stressing collaboration, advocacy and best practices.
“We're trying to create a system ... so we can address the needs of children and their families to help them grow into healthy adults.” An ambitious goal, but a vital one.