The Guilford County health department likes to catch health problems early – especially when it comes to school children, and under a new program – Ready for School, Ready for Life – that department is going to start helping those children really early on. Specifically, county health workers are going to get involved before a child is even born: They’ll step in when the parents are just starting to think about conception.

Under the program, staff will work with parents to help create an environment conducive to healthy physical and mental development. As the child grows, staff will work with families to make sure that he or she acquires the skills necessary to be successful in school.

The goal is that all children born in Guilford County will enter school on track in terms of their physical development, their language and communication skills and their emotional and social development.

The program, known informally as “Ready, Ready,” is being funded by the Duke Endowment, an endowment started by James Buchanan Duke, the same man who gave Duke University its name.

The program won’t require any new county staff. A partnering national organization, Root Cause, will provide a consultant for the next two years to help “coach” county staff in the initiative – one that is also going on in some other parts of the state.

Guilford County Health Director Merle Green said the key to the program’s effectiveness is getting involved so early in the process.

“The purpose of Ready Ready, as its name explains, is preparing children and families for them to be ready for school by age five,” Green said. “The initiative actually starts at pre-conception with some mothers – as they are planning to start families – and works closely with mothers while they are pregnant.”

Another part of the program, Green said, works with the children right after delivery and another works with them from shortly after they are born until they are five years old and, hopefully, well prepared for kindergarten and school.