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story.lead_photo.caption Sarah Cutter, left, and Charla Cowans of Great Circle Home Visiting stopped by Thursday's Callaway Resource Network meeting. Great Circle is a free service that aids new parents in Missouri. Photo by Helen Wilbers / News Tribune.

Sometimes, families need a little extra help to flourish.

Great Circle Central is here to offer exactly that, GCC's Sarah Cutter told the Callaway Resource Network on Thursday.

"I really, really am excited about this program," she said. "Children's Division had a similar program gauged toward stay-at-home moms, but they realized they were missing an opportunity to do early intervention."

A relatively new program funded by the Missouri Department of Social Services' Children's Division, Great Circle offers a number of free services to qualifying families in need.

"(It's for people who) want to be good parents, but they have a lot of barriers," Cutter said.

Home visiting specialists make regular visits, which can begin before the new baby is even born, to help educate parents about healthy child development, bonding and promoting positive parent-child interactions, planning for the future, available community resources and more. They also provide information about medical services, can help set up developmental screenings and can even provide transport to doctor's appointments for the child.

The program is completely voluntary, Cutter said. Great Circle sweetens the deal through incentives, which include a baby welcoming basket, free diapers and wipes — even a crib.

"My daughter's 15, so it's been a long time since I've had to buy baby stuff," Cutter said. "But I know it's just expensive now as it was then."

Qualifying factors for parents include a household income under 185 percent for the poverty level, homelessness or insecure housing, being a teen parent, unemployment or underemployment, being at risk for abuse or having a child in the Department of Social Services' custody. (Not all factors need to be present for a parent to qualify.)

Because many parents who participate are in precarious situations, Cutter said Great Circle's home visitors are flexible.

"We don't punish families if they miss an appointment," she said. "We're trying to build a relationship."

Parents who are homeless or live with an abuser can even meet home visitors at a different location, such as Central Missouri Community Action in Fulton.

Cutter noted Great Circle's employees are mandated reporters, but "we're not trying to catch (parents) at things or hotline them. We just want to help."

Great Circle Central's coverage area includes Callaway, Boone, Cooper, Pettis and Cole counties. To learn more and find out if you or someone you know qualifies for Great Circle services, call 573-442-8331 or email