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Community Engagement Incentive Grant: Terri Combs-Orme

A Smart Start for Knox County Babies: A Partnership Between the UT College of Social Work and the Knox County Health Department

Terri Combs-Orme, Urban Child Institute Endowed Professor for the University of Tennessee’s College of Social Work, was awarded a 2013-14 Outreach and Engagement Incentive grant for her research with early childhood brain development.

Orme partnered with the Knox County Health Department to provide educational resources for disadvantaged mothers of young children.

“The period of life from conception to age three is extremely important,” said Orme. “The first three years are considered a sensitive period.”

Terri Combs-Orme

Terri Combs-Orme

The Smart Start program shares resources with participants about prenatal care and child brain development. Mothers learned to interact positively with their infants to encourage healthy brain development. Mothers used tools and toys provided during the program to interact with their children and stimulate healthy brain activity.

Each family received a backpack with a healthy baby tool kit, which included a classical music CD, developmentally appropriate toys, children’s book, and safety and educational material for the mother.

“Parenting education and training can result in increases in knowledge and positive changes in parenting,” said Orme.

Her research showed that regardless of attained education level, Smart Start participants gained a higher-level of understanding of the material and an increased interest in receiving educational resources to assist in infant development.

Orme said the mothers benefited from the classes and materials provided, as well as interaction with other mothers and the expertise of university faculty members.

She said the grant provided data that enabled the Department of Health personnel to submit and win another grant, which allowed them to expand classes and recruit participants for more programs.

“Perhaps the biggest thing I learned is that even though participants may be disadvantaged. . . they are enthusiastic about learning about their babies’ early brain development,” Orme said.

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Project Report: A Smart Start for Knox County Babies: A Partnership Between the UT College of Social Work and the Knox County Health Department