By Elizabeth Fowler, Prevent Child Abuse NC Communications Associate
Published February 27, 2023
February is Family Support Awareness Month, a time to recognize the importance of Family Support programs like Home Visiting and Parenting Education. Family Support programs have proven long-term positive outcomes for families and children who receive services, bolstering protective factors for parents and caregivers and reducing the chance that children experience abuse and neglect.
Home Visiting programs across the country have proven to have a positive impact on families and improve birth outcomes. These programs, such as Healthy Families America, Nurse-Family Partnership and Family Connects International, offer early support and resources to new parents facing the challenges of caring for a newborn. Home visiting programs in North Carolina have the potential to serve hundreds of thousands more babies and families, but these programs currently only serve about 2% of eligible children in the state.
Many families who participate in home visiting programs find them beneficial and helpful during some of the most challenging and stressful moments of parenting. Home visiting programs help build protective factors that reduce the risk of abuse and neglect, strengthen family relationships and promote healthy child development through the hard work of knowledgeable and dedicated professionals. Each visitor works with families to meet their unique needs— because every child and family is different. Home visits can often be a lifeline for many parents to get answers to figure out how they can help their baby or discuss something else they may be struggling with postpartum, like mental or physical health or financial hardship.
Prevent Child Abuse NC (PCANC) Policy Director Nina Tracy and her husband welcomed the arrival of their son in the fall of 2022. Prior to his due date, Tracy had the opportunity to sign up for a home visit from Family Connects Durham and scheduled the visit for about four weeks postpartum.
“Having the home visit made more of a difference than I was expecting, which feels strange to say as someone who advocates for the importance of home visiting,” Tracy explained, “Even being people who went to the classes and know about this stuff from work, there was still so much feeling of being lost.”
Her family’s experience with a home visitor was invaluable, as they received much needed support and resources during the visit. The process to sign up was relatively simple, and she was thankful to have many medical professionals recommend the program to her, despite already knowing about these services through her work with PCANC. Multiple providers— including a nurse at the hospital when she delivered her son and a pediatrician— suggested she reach out to Family Connects Durham and schedule a postpartum visit.
While services vary by program, some offering a prenatal visit and others offering one or multiple sessions postpartum, Tracy had a successful and beneficial visit with a friendly, professional and knowledgeable visitor. For postpartum visits, most programs like to visit soon after birth when the family is still adjusting to their new lifestyle and routines, while still accommodating the family’s timing needs. For Tracy’s experience, the visitor provided a nonjudgmental evaluation of parenting knowledge, had a discussion with both parents, caregivers and/or other family members about what may be difficult for them during that time and offered resources to ease these challenges and stressors. Some programs will often weigh the baby to check that they are on-track for healthy growth. Before finishing the visit, the home visitor ensured they answered all the parents’ or family’s questions and left them with resources that will benefit their needs.
For Tracy, she was grateful that her home visitor was also a lactation consultant, as this was one of her concerns then. With her son’s tongue-tie and lip tie, she had many thoughts like, “Is this normal?” and “Could there be another underlying issue?” as many parents are uneasy and often anxious about their baby’s health. The home visitor assured her that the issues she was facing were not uncommon, provided her with some tips and options for breastfeeding positions that might be easier and brought her anxiety level down about her baby’s health.
Her son was also experiencing some common gas-related pains causing him to scream and cry out of discomfort. The home visitor showed her tricks to ease these pains during the visit and provided a follow-up email full of links to resources and videos about ways to help him feel better.
For Tracy’s husband, the home visitor took time during the discussion to hear his concerns and offer support and resources to him, and provided opportunities connect with other fathers in the community through a local support group. Oftentimes people only consider the mother-to-child di-ad, exclusive of the father or other supportive family members. Many home visiting programs make sure to address all family members present during the visit and meet each person’s needs individually and as a family unit.
For many new parents, the most important aspect of a home visit is the reminder that parenting can be hard at times, but there are services and resources that can help ease the stress and challenges of raising a child. Home visits often give parents the confidence to seek out further assistance with certain issues and managing stressors. Tracy believes that if more families had access to and took advantage of home visiting programs, we would have healthier babies in more communities, fewer stressed-out parents.
As we close Family Support Awareness Month 2023, we invite you to continue to learn about and advocate for family support for all. When parents and caregivers have access to home visiting and parenting education programs, our children will grow up with the safe, stable, nurturing, positive childhoods they need for their healthy development and to reach their full potential. Receive the latest information about how you can nurture positive childhoods by signing up to receive our monthly newsletter!