I have worked with children and families for more than 40 years and have never heard a parent say, “I want bad things for my child.” I have worked with parents who did not always know what to do for their child.
Some parents may not know a baby can hear at birth, or that it is important to talk to their child from birth. Some parents may not understand the importance of a hug.
How can we stop the harm occurring to our children? Home visiting for first-time mothers and their infants is growing around the nation. New Mexico has received money from the Affordable Care Act’s Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program, some of which is being spent in Bernalillo County – where we have several programs that help children get a healthy start.
These programs work with pregnant mothers and their babies until the baby is several years old. We can invest in prevention programs now, or pay more later.
Recently the Nurse Family Partnership was initiated in Bernalillo County. This program is based on more than 30 years of research. First-time, low-income and teen mothers receive regular visits from a registered nurse. The same nurse visits while the mother is pregnant and over the first two years of the baby’s life.
Nurse Family Partnership families demonstrated a 49 percent reduction in child abuse. Babies in this program are more likely to be immunized and less likely to be seen in the emergency department for injuries. They are more likely to be ready for school; not fail by third grade and graduate from high school. Children who participate in this program are 58 percent less likely to get involved in the juvenile justice system; less likely to get involved with drugs; and more likely to get some type of post high school training or education.
Depending on which study you read, for every dollar invested you save $5 to $17 later.
There are other promising programs in Bernalillo County: First Born was created in southwestern New Mexico. The Rand Corporation is testing the program in northern New Mexico. Visits are to first-time mothers and fathers and their babies for the first two years of life. Outcomes are promising.
Home Visiting Programs are also being implemented by Native American Positive Parenting Resource, Inc., to Native American families living in Albuquerque. Some pueblos also are participating. This program focuses on increasing parents’ knowledge about parenting, and helping families access dental and health care, and identify and access other benefits and services. Native American parents who are expecting their first child or are the first-time parents of a child from birth to three years of age are eligible. Parents to three or more children under age 4 also are served.
There are several programs implemented by the Department of Children Youth and Families for families with identified needs. The New Mexico Department of Health has a Family Infant Toddler program for children at risk for developmental delays. Other programs are available to help children or families with special needs. While programs that assist families in raising a child with special needs are critical, it is also important for families who may need some assistance with their developmentally healthy child to also have access to home visiting programs.
What do all of these programs have in common? They help parents gain the skills to help their child succeed, in school and in life. We can pay now or pay later. By investing now, we will save money and resources in the future; improve school performance; decrease the use of the justice system; and develop healthier citizens for New Mexico.
For more information on how to contact these programs, e-mail Catherine Sanchez Preissler at firstname.lastname@example.org. Marie L. Lobo is a professor with the University of New Mexico College of Nursing.