AUSTIN, Texas — There is a popular phrase saying babies don’t come with instruction manuals, but a new Travis County initiative hopes to get pretty close.
- Program help families who just had a baby
- Nurses come to check up on the babies, mothers
- Modeled after program in North Carolina
The Family Connects Texas program is working to support parents of newborns during the challenging first few weeks after child birth.
Family Connects is a collaboration between United Way for Greater Austin and Austin Public Health. The goal of the initiative is to support child development and improve family well-being. Nurses will visit families at their home as early as three weeks after childbirth. The nearly two-hour visit is free.
“We check to see how the family is transitioning into bringing their baby and their infant into the home because it can also be a stressful time,” said Brenda Fincher, a nurse senior with Family Connects.
On Thursday, Fincher paid a visit to Bella and James Scalise’s home, where pictures of family members, their senior prom 20 years ago, and Bella’s first pregnancy adorn the walls. The couple welcomed their fourth child five weeks ago. While parenting is not new for the Scalises, they are embracing the help they can get.
“Why miss out on an opportunity for a nurse to check in on us, instead of us going over there to the hospital,” Bella Scalise said. “My last pregnancy recovering was a little more challenging than this one, so I was more concerned about getting around and seeing how I was going to do.”
During the visit, Fincher weighs and measures the baby, takes his temperature, and checks his vitals. She is also assessing how the mother is doing, and assessing the unique needs of the family. According to United Way, 95 percent of families have needs after the birth of a child.
Family Connects Texas is based off of a model that started in Durham, North Carolina in 2008. Researchers there saw a number of benefits. They found a decrease in babies being taken to the emergency room, a decrease in mother’s reporting anxiety, improved parent behavior and child care selection.
“We offer resources and services that are specifically tailored to their needs of situations,” Fincher said. “We want to talk to the mom to see if she's experiencing baby blues or if she's experiencing post traumatic stress disorder and how is the relationship with her family and her husband? And is she getting the support that she needs?”
The nurses are trained to help in a number of ways including help with feeding the baby, finding high quality child care options, planning to get back to work, giving tips on bath time and changing diapers, offering tips on safe sleeping, with breastfeeding and soothing the baby, according to United Way.
This program started to roll out in late 2018. Bella and James Scalise said when they had their first child, seven years ago, they recently moved to Austin.
“It was a little scary, you have your newborn, your husband has to go back to work and you’re like, ‘OK, I’m alone.’ But had we known about the program, it’s like 'Oh OK I have someone to reach out to,'” Bella Scalise said.
“Getting this information would really be a game changer for some families. There’s a lot of stress involved in raising a family to begin with, not knowing where to turn, if you’re not from around here or if you are at a disadvantage as a family, then knowing where to get support and how to get it is half the battle,” James Scalise said.
Bella Scalise said Fincher’s personality made an impression on the family.
“You get some people who do the job because they have to, and she doing it because she wanted to,” Bella Scalise said. “That makes a huge difference on how you receive the information she gives you and how you respond to her, because know you can be open.”
Leaders with Family Connects plan on helping 1,200 families in first year by collaborating with doctors at St. David’s South Austin Medical Center. For now, the program is open to all parents delivering there. Organizers eventually want to be in all hospitals in Central Texas.