Mother, Nurse Partnership Program Becomes Permanent

Emily Berryhill and her three-month-old daughter Octavia visit with public health nurse Becki Bohdanowicz at the Middlesex London Health Unit, December 1, 2017. (Photo by Miranda Chant, Blackburn News)

A program that pairs young, low-income, first time mothers with public health nurses to guide them through the first two years of parenting is here to stay in London.

The Middlesex London Health Unit announced on Friday the Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) project will be offered indefinitely after a pilot project, launched in February, displayed solid potential.

“After vaccines, this is the most evidence based public health prevention program,” said Medical Officer of Health Dr. Chris Mackie. “It’s also one of the most efficient. For every $1 spent on this program about a $6 value is gained in terms of prevention of health problems, allowing children to be ready when they go to school so they can be successful, and in terms of the economic outcomes from both the families and the children.”

Currently there are 42 women enrolled in the program, 11 of whom have already given birth to healthy babies. Among them is Emily Berryhill and her three-month-old baby girl Octavia. The young mother was paired with public health nurse Becki Bohdanowicz when she was three months pregnant.

“I was freaking out at the time I found out I was pregnant. I had no idea what I was doing until Becki came along. She was like ‘when you warm up your bottles warm them up in this, when you’re changing diapers do this.’ She just really helped me and made me feel at home. She told me what to look out for when it comes to a baby, what my baby’s needs are, how to hold her,” said Berryhill. “Becki is like family to me now.”

The intensive program sees specialized public health nurses make regular home visits with the young mother they are paired with.

“For the first four weeks, we typically visit the women weekly, followed by bi-weekly visits until the baby is born,” said Jennifer Proulx, NFP program manager. “Then we do weekly visits again for the first six weeks postpartum followed by bi-weekly visits until about 21 months and then we go monthly until the baby reaches two years of age.”

Funded through Ontario’s Local Poverty Reduction Fund, the program aims to improve pregnancy outcomes and childrens’ growth and development, as well as enhanced economic self-sufficiency for parents. It is something health officials believe will help break the cycle of poverty in the long term.

“We really focus on what is important to the mother, whether it’s her own health and wellbeing during pregnancy, transitioning to that maternal role, parenting, infant growth and development,” said Proulx. “Sometimes we explore what the mom’s dreams are for the future. Does she want to pursue education or employment? We also really work on connecting them with the other resources and supports that are available in our community.”

The NFP program began as a Middlesex London Health Unit led collaboration between Toronto’s Public Health Division, the Regional Municipality of York’s Public Health Branch, Hamilton’s Public Health Services, NFP International (University of Colorado), and McMaster University. They adapted an American version of the program to suit the needs of Canadian families.

“If I could, I would have Becki as my home nurse for the rest of Octavia’s life. It’s been fantastic and I hope all the other women who enter into the program in the future like it just as much as I have,” said Berryhill.