New resource available for at-risk families thanks to grant

Around the Harbor, 25 families are about to get some much-needed extra help from a $175,000 grant won by Grays Harbor County Public Health and Social Services.

The county is one of five entities statewide sharing $711,800 of public-private funding from the state’s Home Visiting Services Account, a pool of state and federal funding and private donations specifically designated for home visiting programs. This is a service where nurses visit first-time expectant mothers with a variety of risk factors to help them break cycles and create healthy bonds with their children.

“It’s really designed to promote healthy parent-child relationships and prevents social and emotional problems for first-time parents who are challenged by risk factors such as poverty, youth, lack of education, social isolation and stressful life circumstances,” said nursing supervisor Kim Carson.

“If you have a person who is severely abused as a child, they might incorporate some of what they lived through as a child as a parent. They might not be an abuser, but their reactions to what they experienced might limit their ability to form connections or have a good relationship,” Carson added.

Eighteen agencies applied for the funding. Grays Harbor Public Health Director Joan Brewster said the county will adopt a program called Steps for Effective and Enjoyable Parenting. The doctor who created it in 1987 will come train the program staff next week. Two nurses will each work half-time on the program, and Carson will spend about a quarter of her time supervising.

Mothers can be referred through the county’s Women Infants and Children program or through their obstetrician. They can volunteer for the new grant-funded program, which will entail a commitment of more than two years. A nurse will meet with the mother and father, if he’s involved, twice a month to give advice and answer questions. The mother will also meet with other mothers twice a month to talk in a group setting. The nurse might even accompany the mother to the doctor to help ask questions and provide support.

“One thing that stands out about this program is this nurse is really going to be a consistent person in this mother’s life. Chances are she’s never had a person who’s been reliable and supportive,” Carson said.

That relationship will start before the baby arrives.

“We want to enroll women during their pregnancy … so when that baby does come, she’s in a good place to bond with that baby,” Carson explained.

“We want to be able to work with the mother before she becomes a parent, because that really important mother-infant attachment that happens during the first year of life is a powerful predictor of the child’s future social development.”

“The benefits go on and on, long after the couple of years the child was enrolled in the program,” Brewster added.

After the baby is born, the nurse will take video of the parents interacting with their children, which will serve as a keepsake for the parents and a powerful instructional tool, Carson said. The nurse will watch the video and talk with parents about cues they can get from their child.

“What’s different about that cry? Do you think that baby seems annoyed? What do you think that baby’s thinking?” she said.

Brewster said the grant should take the program through the end of 2013. The department is already looking at future funding, but that will become much easier once the program can start demonstrating its impact.

“The hardest part of getting a home visit program started is getting it started,” Carson said. “Once you can show your outcomes … funders have a tendency to say ‘Let’s keep it going.’”

“We’re really excited to be able to begin this important work,” Brewster said.