COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — As his mom and a social worker discussed the 10-month-old’s development, Elijah “Baby EJ” King sported a striped yellow onesie as he watched Curious George from his playpen.

Baby EJ’s mom, Lexi King, is one of 6,414 families in Ohio who participate in Help Me Grow, a state-funded $41 million program founded in 2017 where family support specialists – or home visitors – coach pregnant women and new parents about childhood development.

Moniqua Brown, one of Help Me Grow’s 950 home visitors across the state, said the program’s mission is to prevent child abuse and neglect by connecting families with resources they need to adequately care for their child.

“I’m often facilitating parent-child activities, and so working with moms, whether that’s providing education pertaining to breastfeeding, tummy time – any activities that facilitate parent-child relationships and strengthen that relationship,” Brown said.

During a weekly visit to King’s East Side home Tuesday, Brown rattled off a list of questions pertaining to Baby EJ’s development, like the 10-month-old’s eating habits, sleep schedule and motor skills.

The “ages and stages” questionnaire, Brown said, is designed to monitor the baby’s progress and screen for risk factors that could be negatively impacting the child’s health.

According to the city of Columbus, about two to three babies in Franklin County die before the age of 1 every week – with infant mortality rates among Black babies are nearly threefold that of white babies. Help Me Grow, Brown said, seeks to identify problems early on in a child’s life to promote healthier babies.

“Our program is really special because, like I mentioned, it’s preventative,” Brown said. “Our mission is to reduce childhood abuse.”

Through funds allocated to the Ohio Department of Health, parents like King have the opportunity to work with home visitors from the beginning of pregnancy up to their child’s third birthday, Brown said.

While Brown said it’s not her job to tell a parent how they should care for their child, she helps connect families with community resources, like scheduling doctors’ appointments or providing diapers to parents in need.

“On a given week with a family, I can help with food insecurity, if a family is in need of housing resources, if a family prenatally is in need of a new OBGYN or prenatal care, helping them link with a doctor,” she said.

King, a gig worker who discovered Help Me Grow from a family member, said she’s been meeting with Brown weekly since November 2021, the last week of her pregnancy with Baby EJ.

When she’s strapped for cash or struggling to find basic necessities, like diapers or onesies for her 10-month-old, King said Brown is always available to lend a hand.

“It’s actually really helpful, especially when I run out of diapers and I’m like getting low, and I know I don’t have the cash right then to get it,” she said. “I know that I can call Miss Moniqua and get what I need.”

While Brown said it’s been a joy to watch Baby EJ’s development over time, her ultimate goal is to equip parents with the resources they need to raise a healthy baby.

“The hope is that when a child leaves our program,” Brown said, “the parent feels supported to be a strong advocate.”