Rights, Resources, and the Next Generation: An Interview with Leaders from the Rhode Island Department Of Health Office of Family Visiting

Edited by Samantha Morton – CEO, MLPB

February 28, 2022


MLPB has convened a planning process with three partner communities invested in Building Legal Problem-Solving in the Early Childhood Sector, thanks to support from The JPB Foundation. One of these partner communities is the Rhode Island Department of Health Office of Family Visiting – which coordinates programs through which a diverse workforce “meet[s] regularly with new or expecting parents, evaluate[s] their needs, and provide[s] tailored services to help families develop positive parent-child relationships, promote early learning and development, encourage positive health outcomes, and reduce risk.”

Building on our first blog interview with First 5 Orange County stakeholders, we asked colleagues from the RIDOH Office of Family Visiting to talk with us about their perspectives on legal information and rights education. Here’s what these stakeholders told us:

Question 1: The Office of Family Visiting (OFV) offers a range of supports to families in the Ocean State. What are some of the barriers to health, wellbeing and flourishing that families are experiencing and sharing with you? 

  • “I think [one] barrier is access to interpretation services for health and mental services. Another barrier is lack of insurance for undocumented families and children. Another huge barrier is available housing, families have vouchers and income and still cannot find [apartments] that are accepting them.”
    • Wendy Lincoln, Ma CLC (HFA Supervisor at Comprehensive Community Action, Coventry, RI)
  • “The social determinants of health affect overall health of families. Some areas that continue to come up are access to transportation, and not enough affordable quality housing, and easy access to affordable healthy food.”
    • Sidra Scharff, MPH (Implementation Specialist, RIDOH Office of Family Visiting)

Question 2: RIDOH has been a leader in spotlighting and engaging with inequities that impact families (at the household level) and neighborhoods and communities (the population level). How do you envision translating OFV’s partnerships with families into broader, population-level change? 

  • “The pandemic has continued to shine the light on inequities for families. State-level policies need to break [down] barriers to allow better access to basic needs, [such as] quality higher education at affordable prices for all. In addition, workforce opportunities and [the] ability to expand leadership roles to individuals across SES [socio-economic status], race, and education levels, to be more inclusive of leaders that represent the communities where they may live, work or identify with.”
    • Sidra Scharff (Implementation Specialist, RIDOH Office of Family Visiting)
  • “I would hope they can advocate for families and put pressure on health and mental health providers to offer services in other languages or the required interpretation services.”
    • Wendy Lincoln, Ma CLC (HFA Supervisor at Comprehensive Community Action, Coventry, RI)

Question 3: Keeping up with complicated laws and policies that impact families’ rights can be challenging. If legal information and rights education was shared more systematically with parents, caregivers and the early childhood workforce in RI, what do you imagine might happen? 

  • “Families would have a better knowledge of their rights and be better able to ask for and advocate for what they need/are entitled to.”
    • Wendy Lincoln, Ma CLC (HFA Supervisor at Comprehensive Community Action, Coventry, RI)
  • “Families would be able to advocate for themselves and their rights more easily, as long as the information was provided [at] the correct reading level for all families.”
    • Sidra Scharff (Implementation Specialist, RIDOH Office of Family Visiting)