The Family Health and Wellness educators received devastating news recently. The 2021 Suffolk County budget reduced FHW funding to 0%, thereby eliminating funding for the entire department. For decades our Human Development educators have provided valuable research-based information from Cornell University and other land-grant institutions on child development and parenting skills. Each year, we educate 5,000 participants in our interactive workshops and train nearly 3,000 childcare staff, family workers, librarians and teachers.
Our diabetes program’s registered nurses and registered dietitians educate more than 5,000 residents in Suffolk County health care centers and provide professional trainings to medical personnel, Head Start staff, Women-Infants-Children Program staff and students. We offer free community classes on diabetes self-management and assist with diabetes self-testing supplies for those who cannot afford them.
Elimination of county funding prevents us from serving the needs of families, especially limited-resources families with young children. It’s difficult to understand, especially at this time when families need more support than ever. We have transformed many of our in-person programs to a virtual format in an effort to continue our vital and popular workshops. We speak about discipline techniques in order to raise capable children, cyberbullying and its effect on our children and teens, fostering resilience during these challenging times, coping with strong family emotions, communication skills among generations of family members, grandparenting today as many grandparents are helping to raise the next generation, children’s and teens’ use of digital devices and so many more up-to-the-minute topics.
The emphasis of each program is always on research and proven studies. This makes FHW unique. There is so much information in the media and on the internet which is merely conjecture or opinion-based. Most of our educators possess graduate degrees and many are Cornell graduates. We work tirelessly and are dedicated to helping families decrease stress levels within their homes and create healthier lifestyles. We educate our families in discerning fact from opinion. We teach them how to read nutrition labels, which greatly improves their health. We stress how eating meals together improves communication, decreases mood disorders, increases problem-solving skills and brings families closer together.
We care greatly about our fellow county citizens. By increasing parents’ knowledge, we foster their sense of confidence and competence in their role. We are a small department, but our dedication, hard work, expertise and drive for excellence is huge. We need to continue these most important services.
There are two ways you can help us, especially if you ever attended a parenting workshop, a nutrition education program, a professional training program or received assistance in managing diabetes. Please call or email your county legislator and express your support for the continued funding of FHW programs. Briefly convey how our educational programs have directly impacted you, your family, and others in your community. You can find your hometown legislator by visiting www.scnylegislature.us/148/Legislators.
Just as importantly, please reach out to your federal representatives and implore them to distribute a fair share of disaster relief funding to Suffolk County. This will enable us to continue FHW programs.
Here are a couple of reactions from program participants when they heard about our 100% cut:
“OMG … 100% cut NOW! All of your services and education fall under mental health … it’s needed MORE THAN EVER. What a shame. Truly.”
“Wow, truly shocking! This is a ridiculous cut!”
The FHW educators thank you for reading this column and for any help you can provide so that we can continue our important work for the citizens of our great county!
Ms. Cohen is a family educator with the Family Health and Wellness Program.