Nurse visits after a new baby cut child abuse

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Family Connects, a program in which nurses visit the homes of newborns, is linked to substantial reductions in child abuse investigations in the earliest years, a new study shows.

Participants in the program had 44% lower rates of child maltreatment investigations during the child’s first 24 months of life, compared with parents who did not take part in the program, researchers found.

“We now have evidence from a rigorous evaluation that the Family Connects program can reduce the community rate of early child abuse investigations,” says lead author Kenneth Dodge, professor of early learning policy studies at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. “Supporting families with newborns is key to child and family well-being.”

Moms benefit, too

The researchers also found improvements in maternal health among the Family Connects participants. The rate of maternal mental health problems was lower among those who received a nurse visit—18.2%, versus 26% among those who did not participate.

Key contributors to the positive results included high rates of program participation and careful implementation, Dodge says.

As reported in JAMA Network Open, researchers examined 936 births in Durham, North Carolina, from January 1 through June 30, 2014. Among the 456 families randomly assigned to receive a home visit, 76% agreed to participate and nurses followed protocols 90% of the time.

Short-term, low-cost service

Family Connects provides home visits from a trained registered nurse shortly after the birth of a child. The nurse conducts infant and mother health checks and refers new parents to resources within their community that meet their individual needs and preferences. These may include substance abuse treatment, maternal depression counseling, general parenting support, housing assistance, or childcare resources.

The research-based public health program aims to improve health at a population level, reaching as many families as possible in communities where it is available.

The Family Connects program is unusual in emphasizing community-wide impact, short-term duration, and a relatively low cost of about $500 per family, the authors note.

Duke’s Family Connects International, manages the program, which originated as a partnership between the Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke and the nonprofit Center for Child & Family Health in Durham, North Carolina Family Connects International has since grown, with 19 communities across the United States currently implementing the program and many more in various stages of planning. Two randomized controlled trials have evaluated the model. As the program continues to expand, research and evaluation will continue.

The Duke Endowment, the Eunice Kennedy Shiver National Institute for Child Health and Human Development, and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation funded the work.

Source: Duke University