Illuminate Colorado is partnering with Family Connects International® to begin to bring FREE home visiting to all families with newborns in Colorado. Family Connects Colorado, a new Illuminate Colorado program, has the potential to impact every baby born in Colorado. As the State Intermediary for Family Connects in Colorado, Illuminate is facilitating the implementation of the evidence-based model to ensure effective scaling and sustainability of Family Connects in Colorado. “The idea of ensuring that all families have access to this kind of support upon bringing home a baby could be transformational for our our state, for our country, for families everywhere,” shared Jade Woodard executive director of Illuminate Colorado during a virtual meeting with the Illuminate community. 

The new program was a focus of the latest Luminary Lift Up, a quarterly online opportunity to start your day in a positive way by lifting up solutions to issues children and families are facing today. The virtual discussions traditionally begin with a focus on resilience and self care with a panel of parents. Tara and Hilary each recently welcomed a new baby into their homes – for the second time. The two moms’ openness in sharing what the first few months have been like for them during the discussion underscored the importance of providing in-home nurse visits to every parent in Colorado. 

Hilary, a mom of two boys, has no family here in Colorado. Her youngest, Ari, is just 5 months old and she recognized that bringing home a baby has been a big adjustment. “Self care has looked very different with baby number two.” She’s been prioritizing the things that are really important to her as a way of building her own resilience. “Sleep is a big thing for me. Ari slept through the night for the first time last night and you can imagine my excitement. I feel like a new person,” said Hilary.  

Tara is a mom of two, an eight year old and an 11 month old who came home to her family through adoption last summer with only a days notice. “With your second, it’s a game changer. The most important thing that I’ve learned from all of this is that I’m a better mom when I don’t lose myself in motherhood. There are certain things that I know I need for self-care – running is one of them,” said Tara. “Connection is really important. Having a newborn during the time of COVID was also a tricky thing for us. The isolation is real anyway when you have young children, then you couple that with, is it ok to have people come over and bring meals, what do baby showers look like, all those things happened to us last year and it was hard.” Tara also encouraged others to ask for support. “If you need help and you need support, ask for it. It’s incredible how people will show up for you.”  

The two moms reflected on 8 ways parents say you can help after baby arrives and shared more thoughtful ways to build parental resilience for new parents before the panel discussion turned to the broader announcement with local, state and national partners to talk about how partners are working together to bring Family Connects to Colorado. 

As Woodard shared a little bit about why Illuminate Colorado is starting this new program,  she shared her personal story after having her first baby at 22 and then a second child years later.

“My second, she is amazing and independent and has a mind of her own, but my baby whispering ability went away. It didn’t work with her. I’ve been able to soothe every other baby that I’ve ever held, why can’t I do this with her,” Woodard shared as she reflected upon those first few days and weeks together with her second child. Thanks to her health care provider at the time, she was sent a nurse. “I have no doubt that that visit from that nurse changed the trajectory of my family – it strengthened our family.”

Illuminate Colorado has been working with Bethany Kuerten, also a Luminary Lift Up panelist, and other members of the Family Connects International® team over the last several months to bring Family Connects to Colorado. Family Connects International envisions a world where all children and their families have access to a continuum of community-based care to support their health and success.

Family Connects – coming soon to Colorado – is an evidence-based model and successfully demonstrated program that connects parents of newborns to the community resources they need through postpartum nurse home visits.  The program is in 19 states across the country.

“Our goal is to start families on a really positive path to health care at a really vulnerable time,” said Kuerten. Illuminate Colorado is currently working in Boulder and Eagle counties to begin to offer Family Connects to all families in these areas starting in late 2022 and Denver and Jefferson counties in early 2023. 

After listening to Kuerten explain what families can expect from Family Connects to help support them in the first few weeks after coming home, each of the parent panelists talked about how much they could have used this support in their lives.

“Wow, I just want to shout this to the hills because you know we had a little extra support with our daughter because she was adopted, we had a social worker that would come by. But, honestly having a nurse would have been so incredible. We often didn’t really know what we were dealing with or how to deal with it and waiting to take her to a pediatrician felt very daunting. And, the opportunity to have some come into our home and help talk us through some of that, and her care, would have been incredible. What a wonderful program,” said Tara.

“I second that! I honestly feel a little bit jealous. I can mentally go back and think right around 8-10 weeks, right around there. That is when things started to get hard for me mentally because the baby was just different than baby #1. To be quite honest with you, that is when I reached out to a therapist to start working through some of the things I was feeling, not necessarily postpartum depression, but more anxiety of going back to work and him not sleeping through the night. There are a lot of things that maybe a nurse could have helped me with a bit more than someone who was a talk therapist,” said Hilary.  

What Families Can Expect

  • 3 weeks in: Expect a visit around 3 weeks after birth
  • No cost: As a parent(s) of a newborn, there is no additional cost to you, no matter what your income level
  • Registered nurses: All nurses are highly skilled professionals
  • For all: Helping all families in a community with a newborn who delivered at a partner hospital

“Everybody who is focused on early childhood knows the most important time in a child’s life is that space in the 0 to 5 age. That’s when over 90% of brain development occurs in a child. We know that in birth to one year old [children] that is also an important time. That is a time when we see increased numbers of child welfare and protective services calls and emergency room visits,” said Jeff Zayach, a public health expert and consultant who came out of retirement to help support Family Connects in Colorado. During the virtual discussion Zayach explained some of the benefits of Family Connects for communities needing to bridge families and community support that already exist for families today, highlighting much of the work that has already been done in Boulder to begin to use Family Connects as a bridge between hospitals and new and expanding families.  

Some of the evidence of positive benefits to communities and families after Family Connects is offered to all families in a community include: 

  • Emergency room visits and hospital overnight stays were reduced by 50% in the first year of life; these results were sustained but did not increase through the second year of life.
  • Mothers were 28% less likely to report possible postpartum clinical anxiety.
  • Community connections increased by 13-15%

 

The Family Connects model has also been shown to yield significant health-care cost savings (based on emergency room visits and hospital overnights) – as much as $3 saved for every $1 spent.

Kelly Stainback-Tracy with Denver Public Health, one of the local partners working with Illuminate to bring Family Connects to the Denver community, spoke about the program’s impact on building family connections to community programs. “One piece of data that was exciting to me, when I was looking at all the evidence and outcomes related to Family Connects, is that they looked at Family Connects families that received a visit when the baby was five years old. And what they found was even when the baby was five years old, they were more likely to be connected to more community resources than babies who had not received Family Connects. This is an outcome that holds over time,” said Stainback-Tracy. “[Family Connects] makes sure that every family gets a light touch and it helps those families who may otherwise fall through the cracks get connected to more long-term and on-going support.” 

Bringing this evidence-based program to all of Colorado, let alone one county,  will require many groups to contribute to its launch and success. It is an important part of the ongoing work of the the Colorado Partnership for Thriving Families (“the Partnership”) which aims to create conditions where children and the adults in their lives can thrive. 

The Partnership is guided by three priorities: systems alignment, early touchpoints and community norms. Family Connects Colorado is a critical strategy related to early touchpoints, and through the Partnership; Denver Health, Denver Public Health, Denver Human Services, Jefferson County Public Health,  Jefferson County Human Services, Boulder County Public Health and Boulder County Housing and Human Services are all receiving support to demonstrate how to integrate Family Connects Colorado into the community.

The initial launch of Family Connects Colorado in these communities is funded through grants from the Zoma Foundation, as well as a Family Support through Primary Prevention Grant from the United States Department of Health and Human Services through the Colorado Office of Early Childhood. Recurring gifts of Luminaries, have also provided stable and consistent support to Illuminate to grow this new program and strengthen families, organizations and communities to prevent child maltreatment. Illuminate is also seeking additional philanthropic support to ensure effective scaling and sustainability of Family Connects in Colorado.

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