Moving America Forward

This Program Has Been Keeping Low-Income Babies and Their Moms Healthy for Decades

July 23, 2014
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This Program Has Been Keeping Low-Income Babies and Their Moms Healthy for Decades
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A new study shows that participation in the Nurse-Family Partnership reduces the mortality rate in children and their mothers.

As the endless supply of child-rearing advice books suggest, having a trusted source to help you face the challenges of motherhood certainly helps.

Back in the 1970s, University of Colorado pediatrics professor David Olds worked at an inner-city daycare center and was struck by the enormous odds faced by low-income babies and their mothers. They died far more often than babies from higher income families, and it was difficult for their mothers to travel to clinics that might offer them assistance. Olds wondered if sending nurses out to educate low-income mothers and socialize with the families in their homes would help. Out of this notion, the Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) was born.

Dr. Olds began testing his program in Elmira, New York; Memphis and Denver to see if it worked in different populations of low-income mothers and babies. The resounding answer? Yes. So in 1996, after testing and adjusting the program, Dr. Olds began to share it with communities across the country. Then in 2003, the Nurse-Family Partnership National Service Office opened its doors.

A recent 20-year study confirms that participation in NFP among low-income families in Memphis reduced the mortality rate from preventable deaths such as SIDS, injuries, and homicides from 1.6 percent to zero. Meanwhile, mothers in the control group who didn’t receive visits from nurses were three times more likely to die than those who did talk regularly with nurses from NFP.

“Death among mothers and children in these age ranges in the U.S. general population is rare but of enormous consequence,” Dr. Olds told Ana B. Ibarra of the Merced Sun Star. “The high rates of death among mothers and children not receiving nurse-home visits reflect the toxic conditions faced by too many low-income parents and children in our society.”

NFP nurse visits begin during pregnancy, educating mothers-to-be about how to stay healthy before and after their babies are born. Studies suggest that this engagement reduces doctor and hospital visits due to injury in kids under age 2 by 56 percent, reduces smoking in mothers by 25 percent, brings child abuse down by 48 percent and even lowers the number of convictions when these children grow up —  bringing that rate down by a whopping 69 percent.

In California, NFP currently serves 21 counties, targeting first-time low-income mothers (especially teen mothers), and the program works so well that the California Department of Public Health hopes to expand it to all 58 counties in the state.

Clearly, for those mothers with the fewest financial resources and very little emotional support, visits from a caring, knowledgable nurse can make all the difference — in not only their health, but the wellness of their children, too.

MORE: How Jobs Give Low-Income Mothers More Than A Financial Boost

 

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