By Sherida Mock
If you ever find your family facing a childhood medical or developmental challenge, you’ll be grateful for the services offered through Any Baby Can, an agency dedicated to giving all children the chance to be healthy and happy. Alexandra Alfau has worked with the organization for nearly 30 years, joining on when it was called CEDEN Family Resource Center in 1988.
A physical therapist by training, she started out as a parent educator, making home visits with the Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) program. In 1994, she moved up to ECI program director, and three years ago took on the role of chief program officer. Alfau sat down with us recently to talk about Any Baby Can and her tenure there.
AF: What services do you offer?
Alfau: Every service we provide is related to the family and children, and they are all home visiting programs, except for the parenting classes.
We have the Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) program for children 0 to 3 years old with developmental delays or a medical diagnosis that will lead to a delay. We have the Healthy Fair Start program that uses the Parents as Teachers curriculum and works with children 0 to 5 years old who are at risk of developmental delay or at risk of abuse and neglect.
Under the same Parents as Teachers program, we work with teen moms in the Tandem program. It’s a collaboration with LifeWorks, People’s Community Clinic and Austin Child Guidance Center. We provide services for teen moms and work with the child until the child is 2 years old.
Another big program—which is the only one in the area—is the Nurse-Family Partnership. We work with first-time moms under 180 percent of the poverty level and at less than 28 weeks gestation. Nurses visit the pregnant mom and we keep working with both the mom and child until the child is 2 years old. That’s an important period. We work with them on attachment, how to nurture the baby, how to be a good mom.
The Care program works with children with a medical diagnosis and childhood cancer. That program provides medical case management to the family. We make sure they can navigate all the resources that are available to them in the community. We don’t provide any treatment; it’s just the support. Part of that program is Camp Grey Dove, a summer camp for siblings of children with cancer.
We provide parenting classes using the Nurturing Parenting Program, which is an evidence-based curriculum.
AF: How do clients get referred to you?
Alfau: Some referrals come from Dell Children’s. We have walk-ins, self-referrals. Sometimes they need to be enrolled in a program. Sometimes they just need information. Sometimes they need diapers. We work hard to make sure we assist in any way we can, to everybody.
AF: What do clients pay for services?
Alfau: Clients don’t pay for most services. In some cases, we bill Medicaid or private insurance, especially for the ECI and medical case management. For some of the parenting classes, if they can pay we charge them $10 or $15 for the course. For the ECI program, it depends on their medical needs, the expenses they have—we take all those things into consideration.
AF: Do you have any favorite stories from your work?
Alfau: When I was still providing direct service, I was working with a family because their child was 2, and he was not walking. All the doctors and specialists couldn’t find anything wrong in this child. Why was he not walking? He was sitting and scooting himself with help from his hands. And that’s weird, because when you have a child that age that is not walking, they’re probably crawling.
Well, I knew the mom had other children, including a child with special needs, but I never saw them because they were in school at the time that I was visiting the family. But one day I came at a different time. And guess what? That’s how the older brother with special needs was moving around the house. So, the child was mimicking his older brother. From that day on, I tried something different. I stood him up and gave him light support by touching his shoulder or holding his hand. I worked with him for a week, and he walked. Wow. It was incredible. As a therapist, sometimes you need to give the client mental support: support that if you fall, I’m here next to you.
AF: What have you learned in your time here?
Alfau: I have learned so much. One thing is you need to find what you like to do. Then it doesn’t feel like a job. I want to keep supporting people. I think that’s why I took the challenge this late in my career to become chief program officer. Even my children were asking me, “Mom, aren’t you about to retire?” And I said, “Well, I think I can still give a little bit more.”
If You Want to Help: Volunteers are needed for monthly client activities, office help, fundraisers, client parties and the annual Adopt a Family campaign in November. Visit anybabycan.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If You Need Help: Visit anybabycan.org or call 512-454-3743.