The following letter was published in the Citizen’s Voice on January 1, 2020.
A report recently published in Pediatrics, a leading peer-reviewed journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, released the findings of an 18-year follow-up of participants in a randomized, clinical trial of Nurse- Family Partnership (NFP). The study found that NFP significantly improved the cognitive functioning and academic performance of 18-year-old youth born to high-risk mothers with limited psychological resources to cope with poverty. For those unfamiliar with this very important and impactful program, NFP changes the future for the most vulnerable babies born into poverty by giving a first-time mom trusted support from her own personal nurse.
At Maternal & Family Health Services, which provides the NFP program in Luzerne, Lackawanna, Susquehanna and Wayne counties, we couldn’t be more pleased with the study’s results, although I can genuinely relate that I’m not surprised. For nearly 20 years, I’ve seen firsthand many positive outcomes often shared by our team of dedicated, specially- trained, compassionate nurses—who begin home visiting six months prior to delivery and for the following two years after the child is born.
Those familiar with this evidence-based program (which, by the way, enjoys bi-partisan political support–a rarity in today’s partisan environment) know that nurse home visits during pregnancy and the mother’s first two years of parenting have a profound impact in laying the foundation for moms to reduce the impact of poverty and build stronger families. Perhaps Frank Daidone, national president and CEO of NFP, summed it up best when the report was released. “There’s no better public investment than investing in and building stronger families,” he said. “Not only does the government save money, but youth and families prosper and communities thrive.”
We know for a fact that mothers who have an NFP nurse have improved economic self-sufficiency and the study bears that out: those moms have greater confidence in their ability to manage life’s challenges and are significantly more likely to be married. The outcomes for youth, more specifically, were improved math achievement, working memory and ability to read others’ emotions. What’s more, the study reveals that the youth visited by NFP nurses were three times more likely to graduate from high school with honors!
The study also revealed a critical outcome that is often overlooked: NFP saved the government in reduced public benefits over an 18-year period, including $17,310 per family in reduced public benefits that resulted in a net savings of $4,732 in 2009 dollars, which represents a nine percent reduction in public benefit per family. The high savings mirror what MFHS has seen: reduced costs in the areas of Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and welfare cash assistance. Our experience with the program demonstrates that these reduced governmental costs are explained in part by nurse-visited mothers doing better in planning subsequent pregnancies.
At MFHS, our NFP program continually strives to explore potential collaborative relationships with other like- minded organizations to enhance the overall success of nurse home nurse visiting to help those in need. We are currently a partner with Geisinger Wyoming Valley’s “Free2BMom” program in which our NFP nurses will home visit moms with opioid use disorder (OUD) for two years after their childbirth. The Geisinger program arose out of a startling trend noticed by health officials in Luzerne County: a significant increase of babies being born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), a term for a number of problems a baby will experience when withdrawing from exposure to drugs.
We’ve also partnered with Lackawanna College and its incoming president Dr. Jill Murray to work together to annually award full-tuition scholarships to MFHS NFP moms to provide a financial pathway to further their education. At our Annual Community Awards Luncheon in October, it was most satisfying to report that our first two scholarship recipients are excelling in the classroom, with both carrying above a 3.0 grade point average (GPA). These scholarships complete the ‘circle of care’, providing that key pathway to education and success.
In addition, many of our NFP clients, upon completion of the program, choose nursing as a career path because of their experiences and the relationships they developed with their visiting nurse. Some former clients also serve as NFP peer counselors, who reach out to eligible women, talking to them about the program’s benefits and sharing experiences with them.
In the final analysis, our Nurse-Family Partnership program continues to play a critical role in successfully reducing welfare use, improving maternal life course, improving cognitive development and academic achievement, reducing juvenile crime and improving birth outcomes.
Most importantly, we’re always here for qualified first-time mothers who don’t need a handout, but the helping hand of a caring visiting nurse.
Bette Cox Saxton
President & CEO
Maternal and Family Health Services