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Infant Ment Health J. 2006 Jan;27(1):5-25. doi: 10.1002/imhj.20077.

The nurse-family partnership: An evidence-based preventive intervention.

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University of Colorado.


Pregnancy and the early years of the child's life offer an opportune time to prevent a host of adverse maternal, child, and family outcomes that are important in their own right, but that also reflect biological, behavioral, and social substrates in the child and family that affect family formation and future life trajectories. This article summarizes a 27-year program of research that has attempted to improve early maternal and child health and future life options with prenatal and infancy home visiting by nurses. The program is designed for low-income mothers who have had no previous live births. The home-visiting nurses have three major goals: to improve the outcomes of pregnancy by helping women improve their prenatal health, to improve the child's health and development by helping parents provide more sensitive and competent care of the child, and to improve parental life course by helping parents plan future pregnancies, complete their education, and find work. The program has been tested in three separate large-scale, randomized controlled trials with different populations living in different contexts. Results from these trials indicate that the program has been successful in achieving two of its most important goals: (a) the improvement of parental care of the child as reflected in fewer injuries and ingestions that may be associated with child abuse and neglect and better infant emotional and language development; and (b) the improvement of maternal life course, reflected in fewer subsequent pregnancies, greater work-force participation, and reduced dependence on public assistance and food stamps. The impact on pregnancy outcomes is equivocal. In the first trial, the program also produced long-term effects on the number of arrests, convictions, emergent substance use, and promiscuous sexual activity of 15-year-old children whose nurse-visited mothers were low-income and unmarried when they registered in the study during pregnancy. In general, the impact of the program was greater on those segments of the population at greater risk for the particular outcome domain under examination. Since 1996, the program has been offered for public investment outside of research contexts. Careful attention has been given to ensuring that organizational and community contexts are favorable for development of the program, to providing excellent training and guidance to the nurses in their use of the program's visit-by-visit guidelines, to monitoring the functioning of the program with a comprehensive clinical information system, and to improving the performance of the programs over time with continuous improvement strategies.


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