On any given day, the symptoms and effects of abuse, neglect and difficult parenting are visible to all. We see people struggle with drug and alcohol addiction, mental health issues and homelessness wherever we go. Often, we wonder why — how did these lives go so far astray?
Many times, it goes back to a person’s childhood. When children grow up abused and neglected, their development is negatively affected as is their physical and emotional health. With so much already against them, it’s no wonder that many end up needing help from their community.
How can we make a difference in the lives of children so that, as they grow, they become well-adjusted and contributing members of the community? The answer is: It takes the work of many — teachers, social workers, nonprofit organizations and public health employees — but, to be most effective, it has to start early in life. Thurston County’s Nurse Family Partnership program starts children on a path toward success. With more than 30 years of experience nationally and more than 10 years locally, the evidence clearly shows that the NFP prevents child abuse and neglect and reduces the number of preterm births.
The program — which is offered at no cost to first-time mothers with low-incomes (many of whom are in their teens) — begins early in pregnancy (no later than 28 weeks gestation), which improves pregnancy outcomes. When a mother joins the program, she is paired with a registered nurse who works with her until her child is 2 years old. Over those 30 months, the pair meets as many as 64 times, including 14 visits during pregnancy, 28 visits during the child’s infancy and 22 visits when the child is a toddler. Nurses work with mothers on issues such as avoiding drugs, tobacco and alcohol, eating healthfully and getting prenatal care. These lead to healthier moms and healthier babies. Healthier babies are more likely to thrive.
Mothers also learn to provide safe, predictable environments that include nurturing and positive relationships with their babies. This helps a baby’s brain to develop optimally, increases a child’s school readiness and improves social, emotional and physical health. The program’s nurses also work with mothers to map their own futures by continuing their education, planning future pregnancies, and finding and keeping a job.
The prevention and intervention Nurse Family Partnership provides have positive outcomes for the community, too. The Washington Institute for Public Policy, RAND Corporation and Brookings Institution all concluded that taxpayers get a $2.88 to $5.70 return for every dollar invested in the program as a result of reduced health costs, improved safety and increased self-sufficiency.
The next time you see a troubled teen or a homeless person, try to think about the circumstances that might have lead to their circumstances and know that we have the power to prevent such situations in the future.
If you or someone you know would benefit from the services provided by the Nurse Family Partnership, contact us at 360-867-2548.