Justice Department Selects Baylor Nursing Co-researcher's Project

April 29, 2004

by Judy Long

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has announced its Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) research program will be implemented nationwide in conjunction with the federal justice department's Weed and Seed grant program, a strategy incorporating community-based initiatives to reduce crime and revitalize low-income neighborhoods. Dr. Carole Hanks, a professor at Baylor University's Louise Herrington School of Nursing, has served 15 years as a co-investigator for the NFP study in Memphis, Tenn., and Waco.

"Our program is the seed," said Hanks. "It reduces costs for society, transforms the lives of low-income families and has been scientifically validated many times."

The study was conducted over a 25-year period beginning in 1978, initially including 400 families in a semi-rural white population in Elmira, N.Y., and expanding to include 650 urban minority families in Memphis in 1989.

NFP was originally developed in the 1970s by nationally known child psychiatrist David Olds. Hanks joined the investigative team when Olds expanded the study to Memphis. When Hanks moved to Waco in 1994, she continued to work with Olds and other investigators at the University of Rochester while applying the study's guidelines at Talitha Koum Institute, a low-income child development center at 1311 Clay Ave in Waco.

The NFP program serves low-income pregnant, usually unmarried, women to prevent low birth weight, poor neural development, child abuse, repeat teen pregnancies, reduced ability to work for the mother, school failure, conduct problems and ultimately, crime.

The strategy calls for assigning a nurse to visit the at-risk women during the first pregnancy and continue until the child's second birthday, providing health care, infant care instruction and child-rearing information.

Follow-up studies revealed mothers who participate in NFP, according to the Elmira study conducted by Olds

1) have fewer subsequent pregnancies with a two-year greater lapse between the birth of the first and second child,

2) receive 30 fewer months of welfare,

3) experienced 69 percent fewer arrests,

4) had 79 percent fewer incidents of child abuse reports to police than a comparable population,

5) their children experienced 44 percent fewer behavioral problems in school due to alcohol or drug abuse.

Hanks said the positive outcome in Elmira is the result of the mentor relationship the young mother forms with the nurse partner. The nurse offers a wide range of help to the mother, from tips on child care, renting an apartment, applying for social programs, submitting an application for school, or how to foster a child's healthy development.

"The guidance enabled the mother to think in a purposeful way about her options and life goals, so she had clearer goals for the child and more confidence in her ability to reach those goals," Hanks said.

Participating families are interviewed every three to four years. Interviews are currently under way for the 650 children of Memphis families, now age 13.

Olds chose nurses as visitors because they are perceived by families to be approachable and have credibility with the obstetrician, and later, the pediatrician.

Olds said the success of the children is closely associated with the women's personal development. He predicted positive changes in the family would amount to a savings of $25,000 per child in funds not spent on law enforcement and rehabilitation.

The Department of Justice assists communities through its Weed and Seed strategic planning process. Communities work with local U.S. attorneys to develop strategies to weed out criminals and seed the neighborhoods with prevention, intervention and neighborhood revitalization services. Currently, more than 300 communities across the country participate in Weed and Seed programs.

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