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Bringing home a newborn baby can be as anxiety-provoking as it is exciting. Beginning in 2020, however, some Chicago parents will receive unexpected but much-needed help. A new pilot program announced on November 20th will provide thousands of newborn babies and their parents with home visits from a registered nurse.
The program, called Family Connects, will cover babies born at four “safety-net” hospitals: St. Bernard Hospital, Mount Sinai Hospital, Norwegian American Hospital, and Rush University Medical Center.
The Chicago Department of Public Health is launching this pilot program to improve the health and wellbeing of mothers, newborns, and their families, by providing them with free nursing services.
“Parenthood doesn’t come with an instruction manual,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at a press event in Englewood announcing Family Connects Chicago. “This program will provide mothers and newborns support that is so vital in those first few weeks of a baby’s life.”
The goal, the mayor said, is to provide families with “smart, supportive, and holistic services that don’t just address a problem when it happens, but keep a problem from happening at all.”
City officials estimate more than 4,000 families will be eligible for the service next year at the four pilot hospitals. The program will be evaluated with help from the UIC Center of Excellence in Maternal and Child Health before it is expanded over five years to all 17 birthing hospitals in the city, according to Dr. Allison Arwady, acting commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health.
“In a city with 37,000 babies born every year, we have 37,000 opportunities to connect these families at a time where everybody needs a little bit of a helping hand,” Arwady said.
Officials said parents with a newborn at any of the four pilot hospitals can participate, including foster and adoptive parents. Nurses will first visit families at the hospitals included in the pilot program. This initial contact will occur within 24 hours of delivery. The nurses will offer postpartum home nursing services at no additional cost. Those services include screenings of mother and baby, and education about newborn care, such as safe sleep information and help with bathing, to establish a connection and schedule the home visit. This visit should take place within three to five weeks after birth, to assess wellness and help families deal with any specific issues that arise, including connecting them with additional resources and supports.
“All parents can use a little help during this important time. It can be stressful and overwhelming to have a newborn,” said Guadalupe Alcazar, a CDPH registered nurse who has delivered family care services to families with newborns. “My job is to make them comfortable as the parent of a newborn.”
Scheduling the first home visit three to five weeks after a newborn is brought home may help reduce no-show rates at follow-up appointments, says Evelyn Jones, vice president of nursing services at St. Bernard Hospital. She also sees the potential for the program to reduce emergency room visits.
Parents and families will receive useful support and information during these home visits. They can expect to find out how to better care for their babies to ensure they stay healthy and growing.
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The start-up of Family Connects is welcome news throughout Chicago. Starting in 2020, the program will help thousands of babies and their families, at no additional cost to families.
“We are very excited that Mayor Lightfoot and the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) are beginning these four Family Connects programs,” Diana Rauner, President of The Ounce of Prevention Fund, said. “This is a major step toward ensuring that all Chicago families with a new baby have an opportunity to connect with the kinds of support they need at such a pivotal stage of life. In doing this, the Mayor and CDPH are helping to ensure that Chicago’s babies have the best chances for a strong and healthy early start in life.”
Using an evidence-based model to support newborns and their families, Family Connects will reach babies and their families from the earliest stages of a child’s life. Through connecting new mothers and fathers to additional information and support services, the program connects seeks to reduce expensive emergency room medical care visits and costs and build strong, collaborative relationships among parents and families with community partners.
The Ounce of Prevention Fund has provided technical assistance and support for the first two Family Connects Illinois programs in Peoria and Stephenson Counties.
Family Connects Chicago and Family Connects Illinois are both components of Family Connects International at Duke University’s Center for Child and Family Policy. Family Connects is being actively replicated in over 15 locations across the country, including in Illinois.