Nursing new bonds: Program pairs first-time mothers with visiting nurses

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The bond between a mother and a child is like no other. Sometimes it takes a nurse to strengthen it.

"[Nurses] can actually improve the lives of the children, the mothers, and our communities," says Brenda Graves, RN, BSN, CLC, supervisor of the Fort Collins, CO-based wing of the nurse-run non-profit Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) program.

The NFP program partners low-income, first-time mothers with nurses who visit the mothers in their own homes. The goal is to improve pregnancy outcomes, the health and development of children, and provide mothers with the confidence to create positive life courses for themselves. Since 1996, 86,000 mothers have been through the program, which now operates in 25 states and continues to expand.

The birth of NFP

As an undergraduate, David Olds, PhD, was working at an inner-city day care center and saw a need for guidance to be provided to parents and children. In 1977, he and colleagues decided to develop a program for nurses to visit the homes of low-income women during their first pregnancies and until their child's second birthday. Trials conducted in communities proved the program yielded positive results.

During the visits, nurses:

  • Discussed preventative health and prenatal practices for the mother, such as improving diet, reducing cigarette use, and alcohol and illegal substances
  • Provided health and development education and care for mothers and children to increase awareness of specific child-development milestones and behaviors
  • Provided life coaching for mothers, encouraging them to develop a vision of their futures, stay in school if under 18, and find jobs

By 1996 a multi-disciplinary team of public health policy experts, along with nursing and education professionals, launched an effort to replicate the model across the country, which became the NFP program. Twenty-five states are currently implementing the program, which is funded mainly by the public.

Elly Yost, RN, PNP, director of professional development at NFP, says nurses in the program are issued up to 25 clients, meeting with each mother bi-weekly during a 64-visit commitment.

"Many times these women have not had the opportunity to have a consistent, trustful relationship," says Graves. "We try to model that they can have a relationship because we want them to have that relationship with their child."

Enriching experiences
Graves says reading about Olds' research was like a calling. She was not working as a nurse at the time, but the program drew her back. "I was so inspired, I had to do something different."

Now with NFP for seven years, she says she has seen many successes, even though the mothers are sometimes unsure about forming a relationship with a nurse.

"The mothers come back and talk to you two or three years later about the things that they accomplished, and they tell you 'I have accomplished this because I was in the Nurse-Family Partnership,'" she says.

The mothers often don't have a support system that can help them with the difficulties of a first time pregnancy. Lauren Baker, the national director of marketing and communications for the National Service Office, says the nurses serve as role models for mothers, and also become mentors, coaches, and friends.

"The nurses really do help these mothers grow into confident people who can be good parents and strong women in their own right," says Baker.

And according to Graves, the positives are reciprocal.

"I have learned so much by being in this program and I know that I have made a difference in the lives of the families." says Graves. "This is a life-changing program, both for nurses and the mothers."

Editor's note: To learn more about NFT opportunities, visit the Web site or view current openings at NFP agencies across the country.