Helping Delaware mothers one visit at a time

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 Soraida Ramos Morales and her son at their Georgetown home.(Paul Parmelee/WHYY)

Soraida Ramos Morales and her son at their Georgetown home.(Paul Parmelee/WHYY)

Delaware Governor Jack Markell wants to expand a program which uses nurses who make house calls to teaches new mothers how best to start their children on the right path.

Markell’s new budget proposal calls for just a fraction of spending for new programs, but one item Markell wants to grow in Delaware is the Nurse Family Partnership. State leaders say it could be a better way to help first time, low income mothers improve their parenting skills.

It’s a throwback to years gone by. The old house call with a twist. Through the Nurse Family Partnership, nurses visit with new mothers, teaching them not just how to care for their children, but also how to improve their own economic situation.

Through the visiting program, which is run in Delaware by Children and Families First, nurses like Lauren Clark make as many as 75 home visits with mothers over the course of about two year. “Our process starts during the mom’s pregnancy,” said Clark. “We continue visiting them until their target child reaches the age of two.”

Clark is one of eight nurses who visit with about 200 single mothers like Soraida Ramos Morales, who she helps in Georgetown. “It’s been great,” said Morales. “A wonderful experience. I’ve learned a lot with them.”

Morales’ son is just over a year old. She says through the home visits with Clark, she’s learned how to better care for him. “We go through things like how to treat a child, like not abuse him, or give them hard punishments for some things they do. I mean, he’s a baby.”

Benefits beyond infancy

The visits have also helped Morales develop goals for the future. “I always wanted to continue with school, and I think Miss Lauren has helped me, like, to set the goal and accomplish it.”

Clark says some clients have never been able to see themselves setting or achieving goals before meeting with a nurse home visitor. “We begin usually with short-term goals, so they can feel a little bit of success and achievement, and then really, after they’ve been in the program for a while, focus in on those long term goals. That’s going to really improve their outcome.”

Expanding the visits

In his State of the State Address in January, Governor Markell issued a call for the program to more than double the number of first time mothers served by what he dubbed a proven program. “That would give us a higher percentage of eligible mothers who are benefiting from this program than in any other state in America,” Markell said.

Expanding the number of mother helped by the visits would also add to the economic benefit for the state. “For every public health dollar invested in Nurse Family Partnership, on your most vulnerable families, you can expect a five dollar return,” said Clark. “That’s a substantial impact that it can make on our state as a whole.”

After 35 years of research into the national results of the Nurse-Family Partnership program, organizers say they’ve seen a 50 percent reduction in child abuse and neglect cases, as well as a decrease in pre-term deliveries and dependence on welfare.

Lt. Gov. Matt Denn, who is working towards expanding the program, says it’s a simple, but very effective program. Effective, in part, Denn says, because the visiting nurse is seen as an expert.

“These parents take what they’re saying very seriously because they are medical professionals, they carry a pretty low case load for a program like this, which helps them spend a lot of time with the parents,” said Denn.

It will take $1.3 million to expand the program to serve 500 mothers. Denn says that money is basically the cost of paying the nurses, as the program has very low overhead.

Soraida Morales has one more one more year in the program, and after that, she hopes to one day become an RN and maybe even a visiting nurse herself.

“They are great people,” she said. “Especially Miss Lauren. She has really helped me through a lot of things with my baby. And I think, without her help, I wouldn’t be here.”

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