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Published on May 08, 2018

woman holding a baby

GunderKids: New model of care for socially complex families

Ann Budzak Garza, MD

Ann Budzak Garza, MD

A unique program at Gundersen Health System is helping address one of the fastest growing medical problems in our community—substance use disorder. The program, known as GunderKids, provides continual support and education to parents with a substance use disorder beginning in their baby's first year of life. It also provides regular pediatric care.

Research has shown that parents who abuse substances are less likely to be able to function effectively in a parenting role. Their life becomes focused on obtaining and using drugs, and the basic needs of their children often go unmet, resulting in neglect.

"Many factors contribute to child maltreatment, but we know the vast majority of parents who abuse or neglect their child never intend to do so. We are not here to judge but to provide support that these families won't otherwise get," states Ann Budzak Garza, MD, Gundersen child abuse pediatrician and medical director of GunderKids.

Babies enrolled in the program are seen 17 times in their first year of life. At each visit, the GunderKids-trained medical team (made up of a clinician, nurse and social worker) evaluates the child's health, development and basic needs, and educates caregivers on parenting, nurturing and child development. Caregivers are also contacted frequently, in person and via phone, to address the many questions and stressors that come with being new parents.

"What we've created is a model of care that is welcoming to families and gives us an opportunity to build a relationship of trust. Families with substance use disorder love their kids and want the best for them just like every other parent. Many, many have shown us that and work very hard to give their child a better life than they have had," says Dr. Budzak Garza.

GunderKids is funded, in part, by Gundersen Medical Foundation. Learn how you can support local families committed to being great parents.


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