By Abby Zofchak
A Duke professor is taking the successful model of Durham Connects—a nurse home visiting program for newborns —nationwide. Since the expansion began in October 2017, Family Connects has begun working in 26 communities across the country including Baltimore, Long Island, N.Y., Southern Santa Barbara County, Calif., and Travis County, Texas.
Kenneth A. Dodge, Pritzker Professor of Early Learning Policy Studies at the Sanford School of Public Policy, is leading the project. More than 10 years ago, he collaborated with members of the Durham and Duke communities to create Durham Connects as a means for addressing high rates of child maltreatment in Durham County.
The program sends a nurse to visit the family of every newborn, regardless of the family’s income level. The nurse informs parents how to access community resources that can assist with health care, financial stability, parenting and parental mental health. The service is free to the family.
“Everybody has needs around the birth of a child. Nobody is fully prepared for a baby,” said Ben Goodman, co-director of Durham Connects/Family Connects.
Family Connects has set a goal of serving 100,000 mothers and their infants at 50 locations over the next two years. By the end of five years, the program hopes to reach 400,000 mothers at approximately 140 different locations throughout the country.
Dodge said he was inspired to started Durham Connects when the Duke Endowment asked about funding a project that would have an impact on a large population.
“Child development science tells us that at the time of birth each family has unique needs. One family might need help with maternal depression, and another family might need high-quality child care. These needs are spread across the entire population,” Dodge said.
“Durham Connects is successful because we have found a way to reach every family, but then we treat each family differently by understanding its unique needs and connecting family members with resources to meet their particular situation. Families respond positively, their confidence increases, and we prevent bad outcomes.”
One study found families in the program used 59 percent less emergency care in the first six months of life. A second study found those benefits continue throughout the first year of life, both for families receiving Medicaid and privately insured families. Researchers estimate the program saves $3 in avoided health care costs for every $1 spent.
With the success of Durham Connects, other communities became interested in adopting the model. Recent funding from the Pritzker Family Foundation is allowing Family Connects to respond to this increasing demand.
“As we continue to expand, Family Connects will build and maintain long-term relationships with communities,” said Goodman. “Once a site is formally certified after the initial 12- to 18-month training period, we continue to monitor implementation quarterly, provide support as needed, and recertify the site every three years.”
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As the program expands nationwide, evaluation of its effectiveness will continue. Family Connects plans to collect data on implementation and impact that will help improve performance, test innovations, enhance site support, and build organizational and technological infrastructure. With this information, Family Connects plans to prioritize its efforts to address increasing demand for nurse home visits.
“The program’s context within Duke University is unique among early childhood care programs, and provides strong scientific credibility, an interdisciplinary team, and a commitment to rigorous evaluation and continued innovation,” Goodman noted.