New Bern, NC – INTRO - Pitt County hopes to begin enrolling women in a program designed to improve outcomes for their babies as well as the mothers. George Olsen has more.
The statistics around newborns in North Carolina aren't anything the state is bragging about. North Carolina ranks 45th in the nation as of 2007 in infant mortality rates with 8.5 deaths per 1000 live births compared to the national rate of 6.6, while over 120,000 children were reported as abused or neglected during the last complete fiscal year. In Pitt County, statewide numbers such as those plus local numbers revealing a high percentage of repeat pregnancies in teen mothers prompted the county health department to look at programs to improve the chances of both mother and child.
"One of the things is making sure that pre-natal health is improved so that women have adequate stores of folic acid in their body, that they're not smoking, they're not abusing substances, all those things this program helps to teach people in terms of how you plan a pregnancy and how you plan a healthy pregnancy."
Dr. John Morrow, Pitt County's health director. He's talking about one of the aspects of the Nurse Family Partnership, a new program in the county that hopes to start enrolling poor first-time mother's-to-be before the month is out. The program when operating at capacity will send 4 nurses into the homes of 25 new mothers apiece. The nurse will do home visits with the mother and her family on a weekly or every-other-week basis from her voluntary enrollment in the program until the child's 2nd birthday. The county has always done in-home nurse visits, but the intensity will ratchet up with the Nurse-Family Partnership.
"Where this program would have up to over 60 home visits during that two years between the time a woman becomes pregnant and the child turns two years of age whereas in the past we may not have been able to visit that home but 6 or 12 times with some of the other programs. Big difference."
That type of intensive work with the mother is particularly important with the women the Nurse-Family Partnership typically works with the median age is 19, 84% are unmarried, only 50% have completed high school and the median household income is just $13,500. So the Nurse Family Partnership not only looks to achieve a healthy outcome for her child, it also seeks to improve the mother's long-term prospects.
"What we want to do is engage with a first time mom who's low income because that particular point in sort of life's development, this particular mom feels very vulnerable, these are many times women who don't have much of a support system, and do not have the tools to really confront what is in front of them because of their economic situation."
Ann Sayers is the state Nurse Family Partnership coordinator with Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina. Toward that end, while the relationship between nurse and mother aims toward a healthy outcome for the child, it also tries to develop a counseling relationship between nurse and mother with the aim of a better long-term outlook for the mother as well, which in turn will help the child to thrive.
"The nurse also focuses on facilitating on good decision making in terms of planning for the future of the family, assist the parents in setting realistic goals looking at long-term education of the parents and how to improve their long-term economic sufficiency, coaching the parents and fostering their relationship and how to use community resources."
The results from the program have been encouraging. With the Pitt County program just about to start up, the Nurse Family Partnership is now in nine North Carolina counties. Most of the programs are relatively young, but in Guilford County, which has been part of the Partnership for several years, they're not only seeing improvements in child wellness such as low birth weight rates below the national average they're also seeing differences in adult wellness, if you will 13% of teen moms were in the workforce before entering the program, 56% by program completion.
"So it's really giving them a different perspective on having a sense of control in their lives and making good decisions rather than, in some ways, not feeling like they have any control or choices in their life."
Ann Sayers with Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina. I'm George Olsen.